|© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.
An image from Into Great
Silence, Philip Gröning,
Germany, 2005; 162 min.
Back in 1984, filmmaker Philip Gröning developed a treatment for the
film Into Great Silence, which sought permission to enter a monastery
on the Grande Chartreuse run by the Carthusian monks. The last time any
cameras had been allowed inside was in 1960 when two journalists visited,
with the caveat that no monks could be photographed. In 1999, Gröning
received permission to shoot a film.
Into Great Silence runs more than 160 minutes and attempts
to create what the filmmaker calls a "cinematic meditation" via images and
silence. There are interstitial title cards that often contain scripture
quotations (some of which are repeated). Otherwise, except for a brief
weekly period when the monks are allowed to speak, language is not a
Since the director had to work under certain restrictions: no artificial
light, no music other than the monks' chanting, no commentaries, and no
"team" of movie makers. It was the director and his Super 8 camera. In
addition, the film could be screened at film festivals but it could not
compete for prizes.
I may be guessing, but Gröning appears to be trying to establish the
routine of the lives of these men by repetition. Certain scenes recur, as do
the same interstitials. At first, one accepts these as a viable filmic
equivalent to the monks' asceticism, but as the movie plods on, these
motifs lead to boredom. Simply put, the film goes on much too long.
There's no real shaping of the story, no real structure to the documentary.
What on paper sounds like it could be a fascinating prospect in execution
turns out to be something of a snooze.
Rating: C +