Wednesday, January 9, 2008

10 Best Films of 2007: #6 - Into Great Silence

For 2 hours and 43 minutes, Into Great Silence offers images of an existence that is appropriate for the subject matter. You are speechless watching the film. You sit in silence (at one point, you can hear the snow fall) and simply observe these monks in the French Alps as they live their daily lives with their morning recesses and recitals, their daily walks where conversation is allowed, but few take part in. Throughout the film all I could think of was one of the great writers and radicals of our time Thomas Merton. I have read almost all of his books and have respect for someone who can remove themselves entirely from the world and live a totally devoted life to God.

Philip Gröning wrote the monks (secluded deep within the French Alps) in 1984 to see if he could make a documentary about them. It took sixteen years for them to get back to him. It only seems appropriate that they would take their time.

The film is a different religious experience than say an Ingmar Bergman film (silence meant God was not there, here it is a way of communing with the divine) but it is an experience that transcends film and will leave its mark long after you have endured the 2 hours and 43 minutes. There is no artificial lighting, no interviews, Gröning wisely removes himself and any form of voice over (there is no need for narration or explanation) from the project even though he lived with the monks for six months. The film embodies the monastery rather than simply observing it. It touches the deep spirit and the deeply spiritual and all of the credit goes to the director.

Into Great Silence is like an eloquent and elaborate piece of music --- your attention may drift in and out at times, but you seem to always be aware that you are in the presence of beauty and something that is capable of altering the way you see the world.


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