A long contemplative documentary on Monastic Life
“We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being. As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have - for their usefulness.” (Thomas Merton)
Winter, spring, summer, fall...and winter. No, this is not the quasi-eponymous Korean movie. It is the period of time over which the film was shot, around 2002. It is a documentary on the Grande Chartreuse cloister situated in a deep valley above the city of Grenoble, France. A couple of dozen monks live there. There are novices on probation and seniors long having made their vow of permanent ascetic life. The rhythm of their daily cloistered routines is the backbone of the film: frequent prayers, meals eaten alone in individual private apartments, execution of assigned chores, etc. From Monday to Saturday few words are exchanged. The only sounds are those of human movement, work activities, church bells and chirps from the surrounding forest. The only music to be heard is that of liturgical evening chants.
Not every aspect of monastic life is covered. As the director explains, this is not an informational film. It is a long contemplation on ascetic life. It may seem too long after two hours. The tedious repetitiveness is purposeful however. Even on-the-screen quotes are shown multiple times throughout the movie accentuating that repetitiveness. It is enough to convince us that it takes a special individual to commit to such constrained existence, one modulated only by the moods of the seasons. We are presented with snapshots of odd moments: monks frolicking in the snow; preparing a vegetable garden for spring seeding; a summer Sunday outing when monks are free to socialize and, on this day, they discuss the appropriateness of washing one's hands before meals (a contrarian monk has a simple solution: don't get your hands dirty).
Despite the isolation, there are signs the outside world is not too far. Fruits are served with supermarket produce number stickers still attached, correspondence and bills arrive and managed with a laptop computer (no evidence of an Internet connection), and some of the tools are distinctly modern.
It's a quiet film. Too long and soporific for some, possibly inspiring to others. What stayed with me after watching 162 minutes of this is the plain beauty of the cloister and the reminder of a life style that we may have thought extinct in the West.
(Review by Rasecz)
“Solitude is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for it in the present you will never find it.”
“A life is either all spiritual or not spiritual at all. No man can serve two masters. Your life is shaped by the end you live for. You are made in the image of what you desire.” (Thomas Merton)