×

Into Great Silence

"Into Great Silence" is such a poetic essay on the slowed-down rhythms of life, that its quiet pleasures carry the viewer along at a pace commensurate with the monks' own unhurried sense of time. Surprisingly exhilarating docu is an ideal fest item, but could also find arthouse champions.

Witnessing more than two and a half hours of the stillness inside a monastery might sound off-putting, but “Into Great Silence” is such a poetic essay on the slowed-down rhythms of life, that its quiet pleasures carry the viewer along at a pace commensurate with the monks’ own unhurried sense of time. With a painterly eye and a deep appreciation for the hermetic world set apart from, rather than at odds with, modern life, helmer Philip Groening takes the viewer into their cloistered world. Surprisingly exhilarating docu is an ideal fest item, but could also find arthouse champions.

Groening approached the Grand Prior of the Carthusian Order for permission to shoot inside the Great Charterhouse, high up in the French Alps, in the late 1980s, but was told his request was premature. The Order got back to him five years ago, saying they were ready. This delay is itself indicative of the sense of time that permeates the monastery, unhurried yet not forgotten. The conditions imposed on Groening were ones he already envisioned: no interviews, no commentary, no music except for the monks’ own chants and no team — just Groening himself.

Popular on Variety

The results are like the pleasures of watching a gently flowing stream. Groening spent six months in the monastery, recording the way life inside follows a routine dictated both by daily devotions and seasonal responsibilities: the self-sufficient community has assigned tasks ranging from gardening to shoe repair. Indications of the passing of time come only in shifts from light to dark, and the change of seasons visible from within the confines of the monastery grounds.

Groening’s camera simply shows what the monks themselves see, freed from the distractions of cluttered life. Meals are taken alone and in their cells, except on Sundays and feast days, when the enjoined silence is broken by a few hours of talk in the gardens. For the pic’s first 20 minutes not a human voice is heard — later, when a young novice chants evening prayers, the beauty of that voice, resonating through the dark chapel, strikes the viewer with something approaching awe, contrasted with the silence that surrounds most scenes.

While the docu abounds in beautiful images (patterns formed by the roof tiles, vegetables peeping out of melting snow), Groening isn’t looking for some superficially pretty greeting card view. His compositions are rigidly painterly, the monks in their cells recalling countless works of St. Jerome in his study that take on a stillness reminiscent of canvases by Georges De La Tour. Even silent close-ups of the Carthusians’ faces, staring uninterpretably out at the viewer, can be directly compared with monks’ portraits by the great Flemish masters.

The monks wouldn’t allow artificial light to be brought in, so the penumbral feel of certain scenes, especially within the cells, increases the sense of time standing still. Sound quality, so important in a film emphasizing silence, is first rate, capturing even the quiet landing of snowflakes on white-blanketed ground.

Into Great Silence

Germany-Switzerland

Production: A Bavaria Film Intl. presentation of a Philip Groening Film (Germany)/Ventura Films (Switzerland)/Bavaria Film, Cine Plus (Germany) production, in cooperation with ARTE/ZDF, Bayerischer Rundfunk, TSI Televisione Svizzera, with the support of Filmstiftung NRW, FFA, Filmbuero NRW. (International sales: Bavaria Film Intl., Geiselgasteig, Germany.) Produced by Philip Groening, Michael Weber, Andres Pfaffli, Elda Guidinetti. Co-producer, Frank Evers. Executive producers, Joerg Schulze, Philip Groening. Directed, written, edited by Philip Groening.

Crew: A correction was made to this review on Oct. 14, 2005. Camera (HD, Super 8-to-35mm), Groening; sound (Dolby Digital), Groening, Michael Hinreiner, Benedikt Just, Max Jonathan Silberstein; sound mix, Michael Kranz. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Horizons), Sept. 3, 2005. (Also in Toronto Film Festival -- Real to Reel.) Running time: 160 MIN.

More Film

  • Sheep Without a Shepherd

    China Box Office: ‘Shepherd’ and ‘Skyfire’ Lead Local Film Dominance

    Chinese-made films “Sheep Without A Shepherd,” “Skyfire” and “Gone With the Light” dominated weekend takings at the mainland Chinese box office. Hollywood’s holdovers were consigned to the lesser rankings. “Shepherd” is a remake of 2013 Indian thriller “Drishyam” and tells the story of a man trying to cover up for his daughter’s killing of a [...]

  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    COLA Announces California On-Location Awards Winners

    “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” “Dolemite is My Name,” and HBO’s “Ballers” are among the winners of this year’s COLA awards. The COLAs recognize location managers, public employees and other professionals who help facilitate on-location production across the Golden State. This year’s awards program was held at the Universal Hilton. Finalists and winners are [...]

  • French movie director Jean Luc Godard

    How Anna Karina and Jean-Luc Godard Immortalized Each Other (Guest Column)

    With the passing of Anna Karina, a curtain has fallen on the French New Wave, that fabled cinematic movement that brought fame to the man who made her name, Jean-Luc Godard. Yes, Godard is still with us, as is “Breathless” star Jean-Paul Belmondo (practically the last of the living New Wave legends), but his moviemaking [...]

  • Richard Jewell

    Box Office: Clint Eastwood Suffers Worst Opening in Four Decades With 'Richard Jewell'

    Clint Eastwood might end up with a lump of box office coal after “Richard Jewell” sputtered in its domestic debut. Despite critical acclaim, Warner Bros.’ drama about the security guard falsely accused by the media for playing a part in the 1996 Olympics bombing ignited with a dismal $5 million from 2,502 theaters. It’s a [...]

  • (from left) Tom (Henry Golding) and

    Emilia Clarke's 'Last Christmas' Crosses $100 Million at Global Box Office

    Universal’s “Last Christmas,” a romantic comedy starring Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding, surpassed $100 million in global ticket sales. The milestone is a win for original fare, one that is especially impressive considering the movie was skewered by critics for its wacky twist ending. After six weeks in theaters, “Last Christmas” has earned $34.4 million [...]

  • DSCF0855.RAF

    'Jumanji 2' Rules Overseas Box Office With $85 Million

    Sony’s “Jumanji: The Next Level” powered international box office charts, collecting $85 million from 34 markets over the weekend. The action-packed sequel kicked off in North America with $60 million for a global start of $145 million. “Jumanji: The Next Level” debuted in a handful of foreign territories last weekend, bringing box office receipts to [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content