The sound of silence
by Camillo de Marco
- A forgotten dimension for Western audiences, invested with a sea of visual and sonorous signs...
The refutation of words, which would seem like the refutation of a cinema made up of words, in favour of a cinema of the real, a documentary cinema that provokes reality with the presence of a camera.
Documentary filmmaker Philip Gröning’s film was unique from the start: in 1984, the German director asked the Grande Chartreuse of Grenoble, the oldest and most important Carthusian monastery of Europe, for permission to shoot inside its walls. Surprisingly, permission was granted – 18 years later. Gröning moved to the monastery for several months and, alone and without a crew, lived following the order’s rhythm and rules: speaking as little as possible, working, mediating and praying.
In three intervals between 2002 and 2003, Gröning filmed 120 hours of material with a Sony 24P HD camera and a Super 8 camera, which he edited then down to 166 minutes.
The result is a long contemplation on contemplative men, with no music or voiceover. Gröning offers a silence broken only by ambient sounds, bells calling the monks together, prayers, the welcoming ceremony for new monks, the conversations allowed only on Sundays, the singing during night Mass.
For 166 minutes, we are taken out of this world. The rhythm is set by nature and the essentials of daily living. The editing is circular, hypnotic: winter, spring, summer, autumn and again winter. The images are dazzling for their austerity: bare settings of wood and stone, bright, white images of monks playing in the snow, a door that opens, details of their work routine, the full dining room, very long shots of snowy mountains. In order to grasp the overall environment, to penetrate the minutiae of the fabric of the daily application of rules played out among light, shadows and the space in between at the monastery, the director’s high definition camera lingers over details: a face, a small flame, an old stove, the page of a book.
This small essay on the density of time , on the false priorities of our lives, this invitation to linger in observing men silently seeking the word of God and listening to the "light breeze" of the Old Testament verses, which open and close the film, is aimed not only at believers, but at anyone who feels the "miracle of time," says the director. There is no search for God in the images of Into Great Silence. Gröning’s film stops at the threshold and is not resolved through words, as cinema usually requires, which is where both its limit and greatness lie.
(Translated from Italian)