A slow burning, lovingly crafted documentary with a melancholy undertow, The Monastery benefits from a wonderfully eccentric protagonist. JorgenLauersen Vig is an 82-year-old Dane whose last goal in life is to turnhis castle into a monastery. If Spike Milligan and Andrei Tarkovsky hadever collaborated, Vig is the kind of figure they might have dreamedup. With his white beard and owlish features, he looks like a characterfrom a fairy tale (although it becomes apparent he is sensitive andintelligent).
Already winner of the prestigious Joris Ivens award at the International Documentary Festival Amsterdam, The Monasterywill be competing later this month in Sundance's World CinemaCompetition: Documentary. In advance of its Sundance screenings, salesagent First Hand Films is reporting strong US interest in The Monasteryas well as offers from other territories.
Despite its somewhat esoteric subject matter, the film is likely totravel further on the festival circuit. Like most feature-docs, it willbe most widely seen on TV, but adventurous independent distributors mayalso give it some theatrical play.
The documentary begins with Mr Vig attempting to spring clean HesbjergCastle, which he has owned for 50 years. The place is dilapidated.There are cobwebs everywhere and the furnishing is coming apart.
Vig is touchingly solicitous of the nuns' welfare, worrying whetherthey need ash trays ('nuns don't smoke, do they''). Vig visits thePatriarch of Moscow to present his idea. The Patriarch receives himwarmly and dispatches two nuns to inspect the castle.
Once the sisters arrive, Vig begins to realise how different they arefrom what he had anticipated. Sister Amvrosija, in particular, isopinionated and argumentative. She also seems to know far more aboutplumbing than he does. Vig arranges for the nuns to plant theirvegetables on land previously tilled by a drop-out who grows cannabis.
Vig is often interviewed on camera. The more he reveals about his life,the more forlorn a figure he cuts. We learn that he used to be a parishpriest in Glostrup and that he also worked as a university librarian.
When the director quizzes him as to why he wants to set up a monastery,he replies that he wants to make something enduring. 'Wouldn't you liketo make a film that went down in history,' he chides Gronkjaer when shepretends not to understand his ambition.
In one especially poignant scene, Vig looks through old photographs andreminisces about his childhood. He has never had a sexual relationship,partly because of his hang-up about women's noses.
'I take the rather reactionary view that sex is intended forreproduction and that's that,' he declares. He also speaks movinglyabout his relationship with his father and admits that he may beemotionally 'crippled.'
The Monastery was shot over a period of several years. Arguably,Gronkjaer's failure to indicate clearly how much time has passed is ashortcoming. Nonetheless, she has an eye for telling juxtapositions.Vig looks like a figure from the Nineteenth Century but we see himspeaking into mobile phones and answering correspondence on a computer.The director also strikes a deft line in her portrayal of Vig.
She doesn't hide his foibles but nor does she make him a figure of fun.Creating the monastery is his life's ambition and she respects thedepth of his feelings about it.
Gronkjaer shoots in sometimes self-consciously lyrical fashion,throwing in shots of the castle by moonlight, of light streaming intodusty rooms and of the beautiful countryside surrounding the castle.Johan Soderqvist's reflective music adds to the poetic mood as does thesometimes over-stated sound editing.
Tju Bang Film
First Hand Films
Pernille Rose Grønkjær
Prenille Bech Chistensen
Kristian Eidnes Andersen