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The Grande Chartreuse, the mother house of the legendary Carthusian Order nestled into the French Alps, was founded in the 12th century. The Carthusian monks are among the most rigorous of all Catholic orders, and the monks mostly live alone in their individual cells. In an overwhelmingly noisy world, the Carthusians seek God in solitude and silence. This film, the first ever made at the monastery, observes the daily lives of the monks.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This multi-awarded documentary is a unique work that is at once minimalist and intricate. Writer/director Philip Gröning had to wait 16 years for permission to film inside the Grande Chartreuse monastery, which is perhaps why he lingers so long there, evidently in winter and spring. He also lingers on everything he finds, from the faces of the monks to the jugs and bowls of fruit caught artistically in the light from the windows, or prayer books illuminated only by candlelight, a glass of water, a hanging towel, furniture splashed with sunlight, half hidden in shadow.

Some of these shots resemble still life paintings, and he holds the shots for 10, 15 even 20 seconds or more. He finds doors ajar just enough to catch sight of a standing figure bathed in light; he cuts to a view of the spectacular alps, or a long distance shot of the extensive monastery from a high vantage point.

There is no music score, but we get to hear the monks in church with the hauntingly beautiful Gregorian chants. There is no narration and no dialogue, although we catch a couple of readings from sacred texts and a brief conversation when the fathers take their weekly walk outside, to refresh their senses with nature. Near the end, he unexpectedly gets one of his subjects, an elderly blind monk, to speak to camera about his stoic view of death. It's a strange inclusion, which serves to highlight how little we have come to know about these monks, notwithstanding the running time of 2hrs 20mins.

The film's length is part of Gröning's technique, which is to immerse us in this still, silent and ascetic world. He is hoping it will have a meditative effect, and his shots give us pause to contemplate what we see - not just see it. I would have preferred a little more insight into the monks and their life, and less still life.

DVD special features include The Making of the film, Night Mass, additional scenes and photo gallery.

Published July 8, 2008

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(France/Switz/Germany, 2005)

Die Grosse Stille

CAST: Documentary featuring the Carthusian monks living in the Grand Chartreuse.

PRODUCER: Philip Gröning, Elda Guidinetti, Andres Pfaffli, Michael Weber

DIRECTOR: Philip Gröning

SCRIPT: Philip Gröning


EDITOR: Philip Gröning

MUSIC: Michael Busch, Philip Gröning

RUNNING TIME: 162 minutes



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