Lenten movie reviews, 1

So far we’ve watched Into Great Silence and the Flowers of St. Francis. (The Face: Jesus in Art was not available on Netflix, so we have changed up our order of things).

Intro Great Silence was a very good film. Rather punishing to watch in some ways – I think over 2 and a half hours long and for the most part there is little talking. The film is not narrated and there is no musical score. And the monks at Grand Chartreuse hardly talk since they are, for the most part, vowed to silence (other than Mass, daily communal prayers and Gregorian chanting, and then some license on Monday walks). So you listen to the sound of water running into a pot, the sound of snow falling, or perhaps just the sound of an occasional shuffle of feet or turning of a prayer book page while you watch a monk pray.

The film was beautifully shot and moved along at a gentle pace. That the monastery is in the beautiful French Alps helps, but the lighting and shading was always moving.

The film ends up being a kind of meditation instead of a movie. I left it feeling like my life had slowed down quite dramatically. The pace and simplicity of their lives was just the right mood for the beginning of Lent. To give you some sense of the pace of these mens’ lives: director Groning asked them if he could make a documentary in 1984. They got back to him 16 years later. About as much action you see is some monks sliding down the hillside and laughing. The film perfectly captures a certain pace of time – day to night, seasons to seasons.

I was quite moved by their discipline and by the extraordinary gift of themselves they have made to God. I would call it less of a movie or a documentary and more of a meditation of sorts. Or at least a window into the lives of men who meditate, and an invitation to perhaps participate in whatever small way we can (we who have much noisier lives).

The Flowers of St. Francis is really a collection of vignettes, which are not obviously connected to each other beyond them all featuring St. Francis. Francis and Ginepro are the focus of the film. The film was simply done, but probably not the sort of movie that would get wide interest. The Catholic faithful will appreciate this picture of a great saint. It is moving to see their poverty and interesting to see how Francis is portrayed as a leader. There is more “action” in the movie than Into Great Silence, but the pacing of it was not as meditative. In fact, I’ll confess to finding myself bored sometimes while watching it. I feel some guilt over this, since great filmmakers like Scorsese have raved about this movie. But I can’t help but think that the movie is a bit over-rated.

About Kleiner

Associate Vice Provost and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Utah State University. I teach across the curriculum, but am most interested in continental philosophy, ancient and medieval philosophy as well as Catholic thought, all of which might be summed up as an interest in the ressourcement tradition (returning in order to make progress). I also enjoy spending time thinking about liberal education and its ends.
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