CINEMA: by Anthony Krohn (reviewer)News Weekly
A luminous film of great beauty
, May 26, 2007
An award-winning film Into Great Silence reveals the daily lives of Carthusian monks in their monastery in the French Alps. Reviewed by Anthony Krohn.Textured light and silence, darkness and hearing, subtlety and gentle rhythmic repetition in a community of solitaries - these are the external elements of the life of a Carthusian monk.
Who are the Carthusians? Does it matter? “Die Grosse Stille”
(“Into Great Silence”
), a most unusual film, answers - in almost complete silence - these questions.
In about 1084, Saint Bruno, an eminent scholar and very successful master of the school at Reims, director of education for the diocese, and from about 1075 Chancellor of the diocese, turned his back on an eminent career of ecclesiastical leadership, and led a small group of men seeking God to find him in the wild solitude of the mountains above Grenoble, the Alps of Dauphine. The place is called Chartreuse
The group survived in the wild and harsh mountains and became that strange thing - a community of hermits. They are still there and have founded other houses across the world, some of men and others of women. From the place of their first house in the mountains they take the name which in English is translated as Carthusians.
The Carthusian life is daunting - most of the monks spend nearly all of every day and night alone in a small house with a small garden. Their houses are grouped around a large garden. They leave their houses only to pray in church - mostly in the middle of the night, to have rare communal meals, and once a week to walk in the surrounding countryside.
German filmmaker, Philip Gröning, was intrigued by the Carthusuans, by these men of silence in the French Alps, and wrote in 1986 to ask for permission to film their life.
They replied that they were not at that time ready; he should wait - for perhaps 16 years or so!
In 2000, they told him that they were ready, that he could come and make his film, but under strict conditions which would have deterred many filmmakers for ever.
The conditions imposed on Gröning included: no camera crew, no artificial light, no interviews, no commentary. He alone was permitted to come into the monastery and to film alone in a way which would be least intrusive or distracting for the monks. What is the result?
|A Carthusian monk|
The film is a richly textured experience, through light and darkness and silence, and through most beautiful camera technique, of the daily life of a Carthusian.
It is a long film (over two and a half hours), yet many have found it does not drag.
It begins with a grainy close up of a young man's face, still in a room. The camera gradually moves outwards, and the film gradually circles through scenes of the simple rooms of the monks, of their gardens, of the wonderful sky and mountains of their home.
Only very gradually is one permitted to move closer to the heart of the meaning of this life.
Gradually, just as the round of study, prayer, work and reflection goes on through time, do we see a little more of the monks gathering together to sing the psalms as a community by night, and spending time by day, mostly alone, each in his little house and garden. It is a life of rhythm and repeated constant themes, yet not a life of tedium.
Most vivid scenes: the monks in pools of light amid the night as they sing the night office while the world sleeps and the stars wheel above the darkened earth; the close and quiet attention to the seasons, to snow and rain and sun.
The quiet attention of men to reading, to prayer, to the humble tasks of eating and washing, the gentle humour of monks in peaceful conversation discussing their customs.
Most arresting is the transparently strong peace of an old blind monk who believes that God permits only what will be for our good - even his own blindness.An aid to sanity
This is a luminous film of great beauty, and a great aid to sanity in a world where most of us are harassed and dejected much of the time. It deserves to be recognised as a classic film, for both its form and content.
It will richly reward anyone who is willing to open himself, or herself, to the still small voice of God, who speaks in silence but does not shout over the noise and violence of the world.
Campion College, the Catholic Liberal Arts College in Western Sydney, is greatly to be commended for having sponsored previews of this great film.- film reviewed by Anthony Krohn. (Further reading on the Carthusians may be found in Gervase Mathew OP, The Reformation and the Contemplative Life, a copy of which is available from Melbourne's Caroline Chisholm Library).