Nestled deep in the postcard-perfect French Alps, the Grande Chartreuse is the oldest of the Carthusian monasteries, founded more than 900 years ago. The Carthusians are a silent contemplative order, considered to be the most ascetic monastic order in the Catholic Church. In 1984, German filmmaker Philip Groning wrote to seek permission from the Carthusian monks to make a documentary about them. Sixteen years later they granted him permission, but on very strict terms: without narration and sans crew or artificial lighting, Groning lived in the monks' quarters for six months filming their daily prayers, tasks, rituals and once-a-week recreational hikes.
Because there is no narration, there are many unexplained scenes in the film that may be puzzling (eg, the observance of the Angelus) or even spooky (the monks chanting in the dark as they sing the Night Office) to non-Catholics and even to many modern Catholics who are not familiar with monastic life and practices.