Into Great Silence

"Excellent"

Into Great Silence Review


Out of all the moments of transcendental splendor that are on display in Philip Gröning's momentous Into Great Silence, there is one image that sticks out. After nearly three hours of praying, cooking, upkeep and bell-tolling, the monks of the Grand Chartreuse monastery (of the Carthusian Order) go outside in the powdery snow and... go sledding on their shoes. Their childlike glee has the sheen of necessity and innocence rather than naïveté and gives resonance to the hefty quality to their simple way of life. In other words, the monks' priorities are such that sledding down the hill holds as much excitement and wonder as a shopping spree at the Apple Store gives the rest of humanity.

Gröning originally asked permission to make his film in 1984, and, expectedly, the monks of Grand Chartreuse said they would need to think it over. A little over a decade and a half later, the monks responded that Gröning could indeed come and film their way of life. Without any artificial light or crew, the filmmaker spent six months filming their existence in the mountains and hills of Grenoble, France. In general, their day-to-day life is little more than prayer, studies, and physical labor, punctuated by moments of eating and rare excursions to the surrounding slopes.

The space and time explored in Gröning's film seems more akin to the Russian auteur Andrei Tarkovsky than anything else. As if isolated on some wavelength of a distant planet, the watching of this silent life seems stunningly alien, drifting off into the hills where snow flurries draft against the stone walls of the monastery and a lone monk is sent out to clear the gardens and steps of snow. The passage of time in the film is left by the wayside; despite its tumultuous running time, the film delights in its hypnotic aura and goes by without the constant impulse to glance at one's wristwatch. The fact that we see the seasons change may be the only definite proof that the Chartreuse exists on earth.

As the title implies, Into Great Silence coaxes one through a plane of existence; literally leading us into a life of great silence. The reverberation of the delicate tenors in the prayer hall and the dusty shuffle of the monk's sandals are one of the few sounds heard in these open hallways and cement chambers, therefore giving crucial attention to the image and the few words that they speak. In small segments, Gröning frames each individual monk of the Grand Chartreuse, each face filled with both wisdom and harmony (although, some are reminiscent of the angry judges in Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc).

Although the majority of the film evokes a distant, otherworldly inhabitance, it's in the personal moments that Gröning is found at his most sincere and spiritual; a monk sitting by himself enjoying his lunch near the house garden, a small walk on a sunny afternoon followed by a discussion of whether or not it's ungodly to wash one's hands thoroughly. The tone remains precise and consistent, but these moments navigate Into Great Silence to a state of both enlivened permanence and vibrant grace. All things considered, Gröning's greatest gift might be illustrating how silence can polarize so many of us yet create solace for a distinct few.

Aka Die Große Stille.



Into Great Silence

Facts and Figures

Run time: 169 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 10th November 2005

Box Office USA: $0.3M

Distributed by: Zeitgeist Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Fresh: 55 Rotten: 8

IMDB: 7.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Philip Gröning

Producer: Philip Gröning, Elda Guidinetti, Andres Pfäffli,

Also starring:

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