Die große Stille (2005) Poster

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A long contemplative documentary on monastic life
rasecz8 April 2006
Winter, spring, summer, fall...and winter. No, this is not the quasi-eponymous Korean movie. It is the period of time over which the film was shot, around 2002. It is a documentary on the Grande Chartreuse cloister situated in a deep valley above the city of Grenoble, France. A couple of dozen monks live there. There are novices on probation and seniors long having made their vow of permanent ascetic life. The rhythm of their daily cloistered routines is the backbone of the film: frequent prayers, meals eaten alone in individual private apartments, execution of assigned chores, etc. From Monday to Saturday few words are exchanged. The only sounds are those of human movement, work activities, church bells and chirps from the surrounding forest. The only music to be heard is that of liturgical evening chants.

Not every aspect of monastic life is covered. As the director explains, this is not an informational film. It is a long contemplation on ascetic life. It may seem too long after two hours. The tedious repetitiveness is purposeful however. Even on-the-screen quotes are shown multiple times throughout the movie accentuating that repetitiveness. It is enough to convince us that it takes a special individual to commit to such constrained existence, one modulated only by the moods of the seasons. We are presented with snapshots of odd moments: monks frolicking in the snow; preparing a vegetable garden for spring seeding; a summer Sunday outing when monks are free to socialize and, on this day, they discuss the appropriateness of washing one's hands before meals (a contrarian monk has a simple solution: don't get your hands dirty).

Despite the isolation, there are signs the outside world is not too far. Fruits are served with supermarket produce number stickers still attached, correspondence and bills arrive and managed with a laptop computer (no evidence of an Internet connection), and some of the tools are distinctly modern.

It's a quiet film. Too long and soporific for some, possibly inspiring to others. What stayed with me after watching 162 minutes of this is the plain beauty of the cloister and the reminder of a life style that we may have thought extinct in the West.
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Expect art, not a documentary
fenella9922 August 2006
If you begin watching this film expecting an explanatory documentary about monastic life in La Grande Chartreuse, you may soon become bored and fed up. If you begin watching this film expecting to be taken into the monastic way of life, you will soon find yourself there. The movie takes the pace of the slow, quiet atmosphere of the monastery. Long periods of silence broken by the occasional creak of floorboards or chanting or bells, and very little dialogue. It is like each shot is a photograph. A moving photograph.

It is not entirely what one expects, however. Keep an eye out for the odd object seemingly out of place: the highlighter, the keyboard, the laptop; the odd conversation on a monk's departure for Seoul, South Korea; the shot of monks sliding down a snowy bank on their bums.

I wanted more explanation - how the individuals chose this way of life; how they sustain their community; what contact they have with secular people. But it is not that kind of documentary. As long as you're prepared for that, it is a film worth watching.
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Monks who live in silence share their quiet world with us.
enorvind11 February 2006
A sensitive and deeply moving film. We follow the life in silence of the monks in the Grande Chartreuse Monastery in the French Alps. Only once a week are the monks aloud to talk when they go for a walk in the woods or glide in the snow during winter. The photography is magnificent as the camera respectfully observes the monks quiet life of prayer and daily tasks. At certain intervals we see close-up of the monks whose faces impact us by simply being present. During two hours we become part of the monastery, the routines and the beauty of the mountains that surround us. After seeing fifty films at the Sundance Film Festival, this is the film that has stayed with me. The filmmaker waited 16 years before he got permission to shoot in the monastery and it was well worth waiting.
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The importance of silence
guruchi22 January 2006
Very beautiful and original pictures in this movie. You can also enjoy such simple things as the sound of the snow falling or a scissors cutting a wool cloth...

In my opinion, the movie is not repetitious. I think the intention of the director is to introduce you in the monks' everyday life, and therefore you have to understand the routine and discipline they are attached to. It is just the silence that illuminates these people.

And I didn't know there were such really sweet monks in the catholic church!

At the cinema everybody were staying till the very end, although I have to say that someone was sleeping behind me ;-)
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A brilliant exposition of law, truth (realism) and grace.
harrysdixonjr25 June 2006
If you want to see the contemplative, Roman Catholic view of Christ's teachings, this is for your. If you want to see a truly natural and realistic movie without artificial lighting (except the electric lights already at the monastery) this is for you. This movie is an absolute must for people who want to see what can been done just by taking a camera into the field and shooting. The message is simple and repeated over and over again because the contemplative life is simple and they spend their days trying to "grasp that which cannot be grasped": "Grace" and God. This movie is a must for those who think that Catholicism is too mystical. It clearly describes the simple beliefs of the contemplative life: that as one abandons one's attachments to things and the material world, one is seduced into the nirvana of religious enlightenment. During the final scene with the blind monk, an interesting comment is made on body sculpting, plastic surgery and other techniques that make one appear younger than one is. Incidentally, a Hindu or Buddhist would find the Christian view of nirvana described in this movie very interesting and the contemplative Christian path astonishingly similar to the contemplative Hindu and Buddhist paths.
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Grace makes little noise
Andres Zambrano25 March 2007
In 1984, novice filmmaker Philip Gröning asked the Carthusian monks of the Grand Chartreuse if he could film them. They said it was too soon, and thus, 16 years later, Gröning received a call: they were ready. A sublime mix of transcendence and cinéma vérité, the result, Into Great Silence, is a masterful trip inside the monastery, a 162 minute voyage that spellbinds, entrances, and makes you become one with the film itself.

Filming by himself on hi-definition video and Super 8 for only a few hours a day, using only available light and sound, Gröning was required to live and work among the monks, both observing them and becoming one with them. He structures the film in an unscathed and natural way, both accurately capturing the monks' daily routines yet also flowing by seasons. Each season has its own pleasures, which range from the playful walks of the monks in spring and summer to the moody yet harmonious mise-en-scene of the winter. Sublime to its very hushed core, Into Great Silence does take some getting used to, specifically because the monks hardly utter a word; the beginning of the film is a four minute opening shot of a monk praying in his solitary room. It is after this, however, that the film resembles true life itself: rarely have documentaries portrayed such an unhurried sense of time, yet all of the film passes faster than you wish it to, each minute counting to the very last.

Gröning's masterful shots of the Grand Chartreuse are let alone one reason that elates the film, yet more than a placed and planned camera, the shots almost resemble spying. It is undeniably true, as weird as it may sound, that the monks have gotten used to the camera. Months go on, and they blatantly ignore it, which only goes for the better. In what follows, Gröning takes us through more than just the random praying of the monks, but also of them playing (there's a scene of the monks going sledding), cooking, eating and sewing, all daily activities of the monks (excluding the playing aspect.) One need not be religious, or even agree with the existence of god and the fact of locking oneself in a monastery, to enjoy a film of this caliber. Nevertheless, Gröning has created a film of its kind: the type that will keep you thinking and enjoying its quiet pleasures—only through simple images—for a long time, yet also one that could gratify film lovers without a limit to its quiet sense of aptness.
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Excellent. If you are a meditator or spiritually inclined, you should enjoy.
MrMichaelPWorldwide20 January 2006
I am glad that I saw Die Grosse Stille. It was deeply touching. The silence somehow allowed one to witness the deeply private lives and experiences of these meditators. I saw this film a few days before. My girlfriend wanted dearly to see it but I had been put off by some critical comments posted on these pages. I am glad that I overcame my doubts. The views of both the inside of the monastery and the outer surroundings enhanced the feelings of the 'separateness'of the mountainside retreat. I have been a meditator for quite a few years and I lived among the Tibetan communities in India for some years. There also one can find a 'Great Stillness'. Are you prepared to set aside conventional standards and expectations of a film 'experience'? If 'yes,', then I recommend this film to you.
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Fascinating if you get into it
Andres Salama31 August 2006
This almost silent three hour documentary tracks the daily lives of Carthusian monks living at the Chartreuse Monastery in the French Alps, as they live in a way that seems to be in such contrast with the modern world. It's a fascinating movie if you are able to get into the slow rhythm of the film (if you are still in the movie theater after an hour, you will probably made it to the third hour). By the same token, it would be almost impossible to see it in your house on DVD, since there are so many possible distractions that would make you want to stop the film. Remarkably, given that European filmmakers tend to be among the most secular people in the world, the movie is also surprisingly respectful of the choices made by the monks in living in this particular way.
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an experience more than a movie
augustodunensis1 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
When you're going to see 'Into great Silence', do bear in mind that is is a nearly three hour documentary about a hermit order. Don't expect anything sensational. The life of these monks isn't sensational. It's quiet. It's about small things and a lot of prayer. Furthermore it is a good idea to read up a little, find some information about the Cartusians and their way of life. The film itself will not give much facts and figures about its subject matter - it's an experience more than a film. But when you do have the right frame of mind, an open and patient mind, you're in for something extraordinary.

Although the Cartusians have the reputation of being the most strickt and austere of religious orders, I was pleasantly surprised by the 'lightness' of the film. One one hand there is the silence and the long hours of prayer and labour. One the others hand there's the cats, the cows, the Sunday afternoon conversations and the snowy slopes ideal for sliding down on your bum. Both sides of the monks life are being presented with pleasant serenity.

These men are happy, you can tell. And I was happy when I left the cinema these afternoon.
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You will find your way both to and into this film on your own
Michael Fargo17 March 2007
I've often pondered which sense would I rather lose: sight or hearing. I had decided sight would be the one to live without since music has the power to make me weep (often). But "Die Große Stille" has made me rethink all of that. It's a pointless game anyway, but I reexamined the importance of sound in my life versus the magnificent, ravishing images put forth in this film.

Like the works of Frederick Wiseman, it's less a work of cinema than a window that Gröning offers. We watch seemingly arbitrary action both mundane and ecstatic. We're not "told" who these people are as individuals nor why they have chosen to wall themselves off from the world's joy and suffering. But as we watch, the pace of the film is slowed so that we enter this world and test our own thoughts about human contact as well as faith. But only if you're so inclined. There's no proselytizing.

At one point late in the film one monk chides the world for living without God, and you immediately think, "How would YOU know?" And immediately we see the value of silence. In silence we don't argue or plead, complain or preach. We simply live with our thoughts, and here the brothers seem very comfortable with whatever it is they are thinking.

Through repetition and ceremony, we enter the serenity these men have found. And while there's beauty in the physical aspects of both the natural world in its changing seasons as well as the cloistered setting, it's the tranquil beauty of faces that rivet. We meet them as individuals only in a series of live portraits where their eyes stare into the lens, through the camera, and into our souls. If I didn't have my sight, I would have missed that and been lesser for it.

For me, this was an amazing experience. But for others in the theater it was tough evidenced by squirming and the occasional snore. Surprisingly, it was the younger members of the audience who seemed most entranced.
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