Length: 162 mins
Region: Region 2
Released: 4 October 2010
Cat No: SODA033
Languages(s): French, Latin
Screen ratio 1:1.78
Dolby Digital 5.1
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Into Great Silence
Award-winning German documentary cataloguing the lives of the inhabitants of a remote monastery. The film, which offers an intimate... Read More
In 1984, Philip Gröning asked for permission to film life inside La Grande Chartreuse, the mother house of the Carthusian Order in the French Alps. Sixteen years later, he was granted a unique shooting permit.
As no visitors or tourists are allowed on the premises, and the last shots from inside the monastery were taken in 1960 (and only allowed as long as no monks were shown), this was a rare opportunity, based on a longstanding and trusted relationship between Gröning and the General Prior, to show the daily rituals and requirements of a cloistered, contemplative life. The Prior's only restrictions were that there should be no additional film crew, no artificial light, and there should be no additional music or commentary – conditions which corresponded exactly with Gröning's original concept of the film, and to which he readily agreed.
Into Great Silence is almost entirely without speech. Instead, usually overlooked sounds come to the fore – the draw of air through a fire, the crackle of wood, the pendulum of a clock, even the falling of snow. Instead of making this a somnolent film, it heightens awareness so you are receptive to the smallest noises. We follow the monks' lives through the seasons as they live, pray, work, and in one surprising sequence, even play in the snow.
Gröning aimed to go beyond mere depiction of the monastery to create an absolute congruence between content and form, so that the film actually becomes the experience of the monastery. A rural interlude in which our eyes are refreshed by the green of spring fields is a visual equivalent of the lesson in which the Order recommends a walk in the country as a change from its rigorously austere routines. Even apparently picturesque moments serve a purpose; throughout we see lovely images of sunlight illuminating the monks' cells. These images illustrate the lesson of the sunbeam – that as the sun shines on all equally but brings light and happiness to individuals, so the Spirit gives to each one as if it were in possession of that person alone. From that moment the sunlight that floods the floors and walls, desks and benches, making the wood glow orange, takes on a symbolic hue and turns the film itself into a beautiful lesson in contemplation.