‘The Monastery’: portrait of an unlikely pair
September 28, 2007
Jørgen Laursen Vig had a calling.The elderly Dane hoped to turn his crumbling rural castle into a Russian Orthodox monastery, but he wanted it on his own terms.Enter Sister Amvrosija – a Russian nun who, with her constant motion and will to get things done, is not the typical image of a hushed, pious monastic.”The Monastery,” the 2006 film Pernille Rose Grønkjær directed, chronicles the five-year struggle between Vig, the self-avowed “narrow-minded” eccentric, and the plucky orthodox nun he invites to convert his home to a monastery – an epic battle of wills.
Aspen Filmfest featured the film Friday at the Wheeler Opera House.It’s not quite clear why Vig wanted to make his home into a monastery. His religious devotions seem spotty, and while he talks about creating something that lasts forever, he also mentions that priests and nuns mean free labor to keep the building standing.But Vig’s appearance alone draws us into the film.His twinkling eyes are set into his sunken face. He wears a long, white beard and a large, fuzzy hat. And in his every moment on screen, he quietly captivates, a sad clown shuffling around his empty castle mumbling self-deprecating one-liners in a mix of English, Danish and Russian.
We get glimpses of Vig’s sad past: a missed connection with his mother, years as a priest and librarian, and his odd obsession and revulsion for noses, which, he joked, kept him an bachelor for life.The filmmaker is close to her subjects, who carry on intimate conversations, and Grønkjær even steps from behind the camera to pull a rug from beneath a piece of furniture Vig lifts.And “Monastery” is rife with metaphor – the hulking, neglected castle mirrors the sadness and confusion of a man who says he’s “never known love.”And, consciously or not, the filmmaker juxtaposes the young nun’s mission to reform Vig with the frustrations at mending the castle’s leaking roof and corroded furnace.
Vig and Amvrosija’s arguments in broken English are hilarious. In one scene, the two quarrel over the “intervals” – or spaces – in a proposal for managing the property, and Amvrosija asks Vig what he’s “crying” – yelling – about it.The pace of “Monastery” is like meditation, but it’s never slow with the unlikely bond between the feisty nun and the ascetic.And the poignant ending to “Monastery” is enough to inspire a quiet inspection of one’s own house.Charles Agar’s e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org