My son told me about this movie. So, when I saw this article on Chiesa I thought I'd post it.
Everyone to the Cinema, to Listen to “The Great Silence”
The film was shot at the Grande Chartreuse in Grenoble, and is 162 minutes of pure contemplation. In Germany, it has met with surprising success. And now it has come to Rome
by Sandro Magister
ROMA, March 30, 2006 – It was previewed on March 26 in the cathedral of Genoa and on March 28 at the Pontifical Gregorian University. On the 31st it will be released in the movie theatres of Rome and the rest of Italy. Benedict XVI also knows about it, and might see it. The film comes from his homeland of Germany, where it has had surprising success with the public.
The original title in German is “Die Grosse Stille,” the great silence. It is a title that is more than appropriate for 162 uninterrupted minutes of pure contemplation. The soundtrack is made only of the chiming of bells, nighttime psalmody, footsteps, wind, rain, and very little else.
It’s just like the passage of God in the First Book of Kings, 19:11-13:
“And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and powerful wind tore through the mountains, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire, there was the whispering of a gentle wind.”
These words – like others in the Bible that are no less powerful – appear on the screen repeatedly throughout the film. But these repetitions are always fresh, like the liturgies in Gregorian chant, the seasons of nature, and the daily lives of the monks of the Grande Chartreuse.
Because the only characters in the film are the monks of the Grande Chartreuse monastery of Grenoble, in the French Alps, the mother of all the Carthusian monasteries in the world.
Philip Gröning, 46, from Düsseldorf in Germany, lived there for six months, armed only with a movie camera and a Super 8. He did everything himself: staging, production, direction, filming, sound, editing. There is no artificial lighting, no music, no offscreen narration.
But this is exactly where the film’s appeal lies. It is humble and transparent. It reveals without explaining. It penetrates the soul like a fertile seed.
The timing of the film was that of the monks themselves, to whom Gröning presented his idea for the first time 19 years ago. And they responded to him: “In 13 years, maybe.” They called him back in 1999. The film was ready in 2005, and was presented at the Venice Film Festival, in the category called ‘Orizzonti’ (horizons), which is dedicated to experimental films.
But no one would have bet on the astonishing public success that the film had last winter in Germany, topping even the latest Harry Potter film. And yet this is precisely what happened.
Yet the Carthusians are the most hidden of all monks, the least inclined to release news about themselves, the farthest from seeking proselytes. The novices – in the film, there is one who came from Africa – join the Carthusians in mysterious, unplanned ways.
That so many viewers are seeking out the contemplative silence of “Die Grosse Stille” is a sign of the need in these times.
By coincidence, at the same time as the film is coming to the Italian theatres, there is growing attention to Carthusian monasticism in Italy and in the world.
On Sunday, March 26, in Argentina, the popular newspaper “Clarin” published an extensive survey, entitled “A solas con Dios,” of the only Carthusian monastery in the country, at Deán Funes, not far from Córdoba. Its author, Leonardo Torresi, wrote it on a scale and in a style not unlike the cinematographic style of “Die Grosse Stille.”
In Italy, "Avvenire," the newspaper of the bishops' conference, published an editorial by Fabio Falzone on Gröning's film, on March 22. And on March 29, it dedicated two full pages of its cultural section to the film, with commentaries from theologian Pierangelo Sequeri and poet Roberto Mussapi. Other newspapers showed similar interest.
Furthermore, the publisher Rubbettino has come out with a book by Enzo Romeo, entitled “I solitari di Dio [God‘s Solitaries].” It is dedicated to the Carthusian monastery of Serra San Bruno in Calabria, founded in the eleventh century by the saint and founder of the Carthusian order.
The book comes with a DVD of the documentary filmed by Romeo in the same Carthusian monastery and broadcast two years ago by RAI, the Italian state television.
To these signs of great public interest in the “great silence” characteristic of the Carthusians, others can be added, relating more to monastic life in general.
In Great Britain, the program “The Monastery,” which the BBC aired in May of 2005 to a wide audience, will soon be followed by a new series entitled “The Convent.” In the new program, four women spend six weeks sharing in the life at the Poor Clare monastery of Arundel, in the south of England.