Pernille R. Grønkjær: The Monastery

First year student at Zelig Documentary film school, Anke Riester, watched this neo-classic for the first time. Here is the review:

For 40 years, Mr. Vig, a 82-year old bachelor from Denmark had a dream: to transform his run-down castle in the heart of the Danish countryside into a Orthodox Russian monastery. Finally his dream seems to come true as the Moscow Patriarchate sends 3 nuns, headed by Sister Ambrosija, to Denmark to get the castle into shape for the final goal. After a lot of renovation works they move in and the castle is approved by the Patriarchate. From now on the nuns share the life of the old man who used to live alone for decades.

The filmmaker follows Mr. Vig in a very intimate way through all the ups and downs that are caused by these new arrangements. The well-educated elderly man is a character every filmmaker is after. He carries the whole film so intensely that as soon as he leaves the frame it becomes hard for the viewer to stay focused. These pauses are filled with images of landscapes which are all mostly similar and too long for “taking a breath”.

The close relationship between Mr. Vig and the filmmaker makes the viewer feel as if he lives next door and this makes it easy to sympathize with this very special old man and his century-old dream. Mr. Vig often forgets the camera and just sees and talks to the person behind it. This gives the movie a very authentic and natural feel as well as a deep insight into the world of his protagonist.

The editing style is very obvious. The cuts are clearly visible, jumping bravely from one situation to another within the interviews with Mr. Vig, combining different parts of his sentences. This technique gives the viewer a feeling of honesty instead of interrupting the flow of the film.

The only problem is that the theme of realising a dream didn´t seem to be enough for the director. She is very determined to try to create a forced love story between Mr. Vig and Sister Ambrosija. This would not would have been necessary because the main story works well enough.The film is even ending with Vig´s death and a citation of a letter that Sister Ambrosija wrote to him after his passing away. In my opinion it would have been a perfect ending to see which dimension Vig´s dream of monastery had finally reached. The end leaves the viewer alone with this unfulfilled expectation. Still it´s a unique story and definitely worth watching.

Denmark, 2006, 84 mins.

PS. “The Monastery” has been reviewed and reported upon several times on this blog.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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