Sunday, October 21, 2007

Into Great Silence (Die Grosze Stille) DVD

Into Great Silence
(Die Grosze Stille)
DVD Review by Kam Williams

Headline: DVD Offers Rare Peak at Monastic Life

Who would ever think that you could make a movie about an order of
self-effacing monks who‚ve taken not only a vow of celibacy, but also of
silence? Philip Groning, the director of Into Great Silence would, that‚s
who. It was over 20 years ago when he first approached the Carthusians, an
ascetic sect about shooting a documentary at the Grande Charteuse, a modest
monastery nestled in amidst the majestic French Alps.
Finally, some 16 years later, Groning got his answer, a „Yes,‰
though he would have to work without a crew, and could only film by natural
light. He agreed, and moved into the monks‚ quarters, capturing every aspect
of their lives for a year, from prayer and meditation and other religious
rituals, to spiritual study, to the drudgery of everyday tasks, to cooking
and gardening, to weekly walks around the picturesque grounds of the
The upshot of the gifted director‚s efforts is Into Great Silence,
an exquisite, mesmerizing mood piece which immerses the viewer in the
humbling hush of monastic life. Deliberately-paced and clocking in at almost
three hours, it features neither a soundtrack nor a voiceover. Thus, this
simple, if super-realistic, film offers its audience the ultimate experience
in cinema verite‚.
The primitive setting and the quietness of the inhabitants enable
ordinary natural sounds to take center stage, from the creaking of
floorboards to the chopping of vegetables to the babble of a brook. If the
point of the picture is to challenge each viewer to steep oneself in the
stillness while reflecting upon one‚s relation to God versus the trappings
of technology and the rampant materialism of modern society, it must be
considered an unqualified success.
One couldn‚t hope to find a more potentially transformative
meditation on the meaning of life.

Excellent (4 stars)
In French and Latin with subtitles.
Running time: 162 minutes
Studio: Zeitgeist Films
2-Disc DVD Extras: An hour of additional scenes, Night Office‰ (a 53-minute
video excerpt of the monks‚ nightly rituals), „The Carthusians (an extensive
guide to the order of monasteries), audio and photo galleries of the Grande
Chartreuse, video statement from the Vatican by Cardinal Poupard, „The
Making of‰ featurette including the shooting diary, behind-the-scenes
footage, and handwritten notes from the monks, and a theatrical trailer.

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