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Critics surprised by success of monastic documentary

.- The first 20 minutes are spent in complete silence, and even thereafter, words are few and far between. Nevertheless, Into the Silence, a new documentary about the life of a Carthusian monastery, nestled high in the French alps has gained considerable attention.

German filmmaker Philip Gröening had reportedly spent 15 years trying to convince members of the Grand Chartreuse monastery to let him document their quiet existence. In 2001, they finally told him they were ready.

The filmmaker’s visit marked the first time the flagship Carthusian monastery had opened its doors to the public since its founding by St. Bruno in 1084.

The film, released last month, contains no real dialogue, no interviews, no commentary and no outside sound or music. It seeks simply to chronicle daily life in the monastery--4 months in fact--of the methodical rhythms of prayer, chant and daily tasks."It was a journey into another world," Gröening told the U.K.’s Telegraph newspaper.

He called it "a chance to explore what time means for someone who knows that he will never leave this house and this cell. I thought it would be great to make a film where language disappears and time becomes the main channel."

On their website, the Carthusians say that their primary vocation--that of solitude--"is not lived for it's own sake, but as a privileged means of attaining intimacy with God." While many critics assumed the film would be a three-hour bore, it has since become something of a hit--mesmerizing audiences with the peaceful austerity of lives quietly spent in service to God.

Sean Farnel of the Toronto Film Festival called it "a film of tranquility, stillness and contemplation…marked by moments of visual splendor and almost tactile sound: the rumpled roar of the wood stove; scissors crisply crunching through heavy cloth; the soothing, murmured rhythms of the liturgy." "At a time in which spiritual practice is a radically variegated pursuit," he wrote in a film synopsis, "these privileged observations of one of its purest forms are a balm for our bustling days."


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