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Into Great Silence, April 30

49th San Francisco International Film Festival at PFA

Sunday, April 30, 2006
1:30 p.m. Into Great Silence
Philip Groening (Germany, 2005)

(Die grosse Stille). Wrestling with the great substance of devotion and divinity, Into Great Silence engages the deepest reserves of emotion and understanding—with seemingly little effort. Nineteen years after his first encounter with the monks of the legendarily strict and reclusive Carthusian Order, Philip Groening was finally granted permission to film their daily life within the Grande Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps. Living among them for several months, Groening's lucid portrayal is characterized by the austerity of the monks; large portions of the narrative are entirely silent, the visuals gorgeously pure. The repeated motifs of prayers, meals, and walks form their own significance, every element of their daily life imbued with spirituality. There is a heightened reality within this meditative rhythm, which endows each sparse sound with a quality verging on the sublime. The steady sounds of shears crisply cutting a new monk's robe, of gently insistent bells, and of a saw patiently eating through a log resonate long after they leave the screen. Subtle yet poignant connections are made between the routines of the monastery's interior and the seasons changing outside, while the unflappable determination of the elderly monks is balanced by the dedication of the younger ones. As time passes, little changes. There is a singularity of purpose in both their lives and in the film, creating, says Groening, "a film like a cloud . . . a film that, more than depicting a monastery, becomes a monastery itself." The result is a meditative journey that is richly experienced rather than just observed, offering insights into a life of simplicity, silence, and deep contemplation.

—Ilya Tovbis

• Written, Photographed by Groening. (164 mins)