By Lauren Taylor
Into Great Silence, made by Philip Groning, is not so much a documentary as an embodiment of the silent practice of monastic life. The film is silent for the first 35 minutes, notwithstanding hushed sounds of nature. Dialogue is introduced in a revealing scene where the head Carthusian monk welcomes two young men into the cloister, the celibacy house where the most committed Christians reside. While each monk affectionately embraces each new member in a commitment ceremony, the translated phrase, "Lord you have seduced me, and I was seduced" appears on the screen. Is that a nod from Groning to suggest homosexuality? The lack of narration leads the viewer to wonder what Groning makes of this lifestyle, as the audience becomes neurotically aware of what he chooses to focus on. Hungry for a guiding voice, it becomes the job of the audience to attribute meaning to this film. In one alarming scene, an airplane flies overhead, perhaps to prompt the meditative viewer into remembering that this world of monks, albeit visually stunning, has an insular vision of the world. Hats off to Groning for his six-month sojourn at the Chantreuse, and his masterfully beautiful portrait of both an alienating and fascinating universe, one inhabited by people truly different from their viewers. A work that took 16 years from conception to the final product, the film more than deserves its win of the 2006 European Film Academy award for Best Documentary.
Into Great Silence opens February 28.
Rating: Silence is golden.