Into Great Silence (2005)
In 1984 film-maker Philip Groning asked the remote and reclusive Monastery Grand Chartreuse if he could make a documentary of their monastic life. "It's too soon," they said, "maybe in 10 to 13 years." In 2001 they called him back and said they were ready. Groning spent six months by himself filming the everyday life of the Carthusian monks (founded in 1084) high in the French Alps. He begins in winter and ends in spring, which makes the stunning scenery reason enough to watch the film. There is no narration or any music in this film, and for the most part no sounds at all except for the echos of daily tasks like pouring a pitcher of water, birds outside the window, bells, cutting a piece of cloth with shears, etc. Even the short snippets of the monks chanting the liturgy are exceptions to the silence. This is a life full of paradox—austere yet rich, silent but resonate, simple in the extreme and yet complex, alone in a cell but together in community, useless by the world's standard but meaningful if ever there was meaning. The film is long at 162 minutes, and more of a meditation than a documentary on what monastic life was likely like 900 years ago.