×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Monastery

Using material shot sporadically over six years, TV-experienced helmer Pernille Rose Gronkjaer builds an affectionate but admirably unsentimental portrait of her eccentric, headstrong protagonists.

With:
With: Jorgen Lauersen Vig, Sister Amvrosya, Pernille Rose Gronkjaer. (Danish, Russian, English dialogue.

A curmudgeonly octogenarian offers his crumbling Danish castle to the Russian Orthodox Church, but then clashes with the new nun-in-chief about how to run the place in accomplished docu “The Monastery.” Using material shot sporadically over six years, TV-experienced helmer Pernille Rose Gronkjaer builds an affectionate but admirably unsentimental portrait of her eccentric, headstrong protagonists. Pic, which won first prize at top-tier docu fest IDFA, could win hymns of praise from auds and TV buyers when it screens at Sundance next month. However, theatrical distribs might justifiably be more cautious given film’s offbeat subject matter.

With his snowy, spade-shaped beard and threadbare scarecrow’s duds, pic’s main man Jorgen Lauersen Vig looks like a character from some blackly comic or angst-ridden 19th-century Scandinavian novel come to life. Via conversation with pic’s mostly offscreen helmer and lenser Pernille Rose Gronkjaer (who occasionally wanders into a shot when summoned to help shift furniture around), it’s revealed that confirmed bachelor Vig bought the remote and ramshackle castle of Hesbjerg 50 years ago. His dream was always to turn it into a monastery in order to get right with God before he dies.

Although born and raised a Protestant, Vig doesn’t seem to mind which Christian faith might come to Hesbjerg. (Indeed, judging by some posters of Buddha seen at one point, some Buddhists have passed through the place already.)

Vig persuades the Russian Orthodox Church in Moscow to consider using Hesbjerg, and, before long, construction-savvy Sister Amvrosya shows up with a small entourage to try the place out. Over the course of several visits over a few years, Amvrosya and some more nuns settle in, but the pragmatic and tidy-minded bride of God tussles continually with Vig over which repairs should be done first and who — her or him — is really in charge of the place.

Despite Amvrosya and Vig’s cultural and personality clashes, Gronkjaer captures moments that illustrate their growing affection for one another, even a kind of platonic love that grows out of their shared pursuit of a spiritual way of life. Scenes of the nuns’ long, mesmeric, music-suffused services are juxtaposed with ones showing Vig and Amvrosya bickering comically over domestic chores. The combined effect brings to mind last year’s award-winning docu on monastic life, “Into Great Silence,” crossed with some jocular television DIY makeover show with a touch of “Big Brother.”

Thankfully, Gronkjaer’s low-key, observational aesthetic and use of 16mm stock, which proves particularly apt for the light-infused spaces of the castle, prevents pic from seeming like a reality-TV show. Editing by Pernille Bech Christensen propels story forward at a nice, steady pace but also takes welcome timeouts for inserted nature shots that illustrate the changing of the seasons. Score by Johan Soderqvist also adds a classy touch.

The Monastery

Denmark

Production: A Tju-Bang Film A/S production in association with the Danish Film Institute, Nordic Film & TV Fund in co-production with DR TV, YLE TV2 Documentaries. (International sales: First Hand Films, Zurich.) Produced by Sigrid Helene Dyekjaer. Executive producer, Michael Fleischer. Directed by Pernille Rose Gronkjaer. Written by Jens Arentzen, Per K. Kirkegaard, Gronkjaer.

Crew: Camera (color, 16mm-to-35mm), Gronkjaer; editors, Pernille Bech Christensen, Theis Schmidt; music, Johan Soderqvist; sound, Kristian Eidnes Andersen. Reviewed at Intl. Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, Nov. 26, 2006. (Also in Sundance Film Festival.) Running time: 84 MIN.)

With: With: Jorgen Lauersen Vig, Sister Amvrosya, Pernille Rose Gronkjaer. (Danish, Russian, English dialogue.

More Film

  • WGA Agency Packaging Fight Placeholder Writer

    Writers Guild Says Over 7,000 Members Have Fired Agents

    Over 7,000 members of the Writers Guild of America have fired their talent agents, the Hollywood union said on Monday. As promised, the guild delivered a first round of termination letters to agents in a show of support for the WGA’s full-on war with the Association of Talent Agents. “Today the Guild delivered a first [...]

  • BRAZILIAN FLAGFRENCH OPEN TENNIS, PARIS, FRANCE

    Brazil’s Ancine Freezes Incentives, Threatening Film-TV Industry Paralysis

    Brazil’s Ancine agency, its foremost public-sector source of film funding, has frozen all of its incentive programs, potentially near paralyzing new production in Latin America’s biggest film-TV industry. The dramatic decision, which has left Brazil’s industry is a state of shock and intense fear for its future, comes as it has taken further hits. In [...]

  • Jennifer Lopez

    Jennifer Lopez Reteams With STXfilms on Romantic-Comedy Co-Starring Owen Wilson

    Jennifer Lopez is reteaming with STXfilms on the upcoming romantic-comedy “Marry Me.” Kat Coiro is directing the film and Owen Wilson is in final negotiations to join the pic, which will likely shoot this fall. The script was written by John Rogers and Tami Sagher, with a rewrite by Harper Dill. Lopez and Wilson both [...]

  • Steve Golin The Revenant Spotlight Producer

    Steve Golin, Prolific Producer and Founder of Anonymous Content, Dies at 64

    Steve Golin, an Oscar-winning producer who was founder and CEO of Anonymous Content, died Sunday in Los Angeles of cancer. He was 64. Golin was a pioneer in blending the business of talent management with production. Anonymous Content, which Golin founded in 1999, worked with a stable of big name artists such as Steven Soderbergh, [...]

  • David Leitch Kelly McCormick

    'Hobbs & Shaw' Director David Leitch, Kelly McCormick Sign First-Look Deal With Universal (EXCLUSIVE)

    Universal Pictures is signing David Leitch, his longtime producing partner, Kelly McCormick and their recently founded 87North Production banner to a first-look production deal. “David and Kelly have established themselves as a distinctive, stylish filmmaking team who can do it all, from contained thrillers to franchise tentpoles,” said Universal’s president Peter Cramer. “We are confident [...]

  • Still from cannes competition film "Parasite"

    Cannes: Bong Joon-ho Says ‘Parasite’ Is Too Local to Win Competition

    Having been partially responsible for the Netflix fall out with the Cannes Film Festival, “Okja” and “Snowpiercer” director Bong Joon-ho returns to Cannes competition this year with conventionally- financed “Parasite.” But the Korean-language film is a tragicomedy that Bong says may be too nuanced for the festival. “Cannes always makes me feel excited, fresh, and [...]

  • Summer Box Office: 'Avengers: Endgame,' 'Lion

    Summer Box Office: Five Weekends to Watch

    Popcorn season is upon us, and it’ll be up to comic-book heroes, a wise-cracking genie, and a lion who would be king to ensure movie theaters are still the hottest place to spend the summer. Last summer, blockbusters like “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” Ocean’s 8,” and “The Meg” drove moviegoers to their [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content