The film’s title announces two central characters: Mr Vig, an old, quirky Dane who dreams of having his derelict castle turned into a Russian Orthodox monastery, and Sister Ambrosija, the tough but all-smiles representative of the Moscow Patriarchate who is called in to take over the estate from Vig. In a world defined by project management, Mr Vig seems unprepared to fully commit himself to what gradually emerges as his once-in-a-lifetime project. He turns out to be a reluctant servant to God. While Sister Ambrosija insists on the definitive nature of their arrangement, he clings to temporary or reversible decisions. The Monastery captures the often hilarious negotiations carried by the two and the practicalities of setting up the monastery. It unfolds as a minimalist, slow burnt piece which builds up a subtle sense of development out of relevant details while leaving room for a sense of the beyond lurking behind the most mundane scenes.
Edgar Morin once wrote that rather than being a Holy Grail to be won, truth is a shuttle moving ceaselessly between the observer and the observed. Although unmentioned in the title, filmmaker Pernille Grønkjær is the third character whose presence is interlaced with the film’s texture. The Monastery starts with a short verbal exchange between subject and filmmaker, setting up the film’s conversational tone. Except for a single sequence in which she steps in to help Vig with a difficult household chore, Grønkjær remains largely an acousmatic being (to paraphrase Michel Chion), i.e. often heard but not seen.
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