Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Dust to dust

One good thing about Ash Wednesday coming so early: We'll be well into Lent before the drugstores bring out the Easter candy! For the moment, they're still looking forward to Valentine's Day.

Not much time to blog today, what with the repenting and all, but I can offer a quick assessment of a contemplation-themed movie I watched last week. It's a Danish documentary from last August called The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun, directed by Pernille Rose Grønkjær (and although the title makes it seem like further chapters are forthcoming, my understanding is that this is not so). I happened to catch it on the Sundance Channel -- it seemed like my kind of thing. And it was, to an extent. But by the end I found myself in a strange position, simultaneously admiring the director's storytelling and wishing she'd told more of the story. I liked the way she let the characters establish themselves slowly, with personal details emerging in their own time. But ultimately I wished she'd included more of those details. It seems there's much more to the story here, and certainly much more to Mr. Vig, than we get to see. At one point he mentions, casually, that he worked as "a parish priest," and the director never follows up on it! That little detail nagged at me for the rest of the movie. Watching him work so hard to turn his decrepit old mansion into a Russian Orthodox monastery and never hearing anything about his own religious background or convictions was frustrating, just as frustrating as when I'm watching parents struggle to control their kids on Supernanny and I have to guess at whether the man called "dad" is the children's biological father, or how long this single mother has been divorced, or whatever. I'd gladly hear less about Vig's issues with his parents if it meant I got to hear more about his faith, which does after all seem germane under the circumstances.

I'm not saying I wanted it to be longer -- it's just long enough at 84 minutes. I wouldn't want to disturb its simple beauty, or interfere with the personal drama (the relationship between Vig and Sister Amvrosija is quietly gripping). I just wanted to know more than I was told about these people and what brought them together. And I wanted their religious convictions to be investigated in greater depth. As a tale of unexpected conflict, it's quite lovely, but I suspect there's a tale of deep and inspiring faith here that hasn't fully been told.

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