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The Monastery - documentary DVD / art house DVD / experimental DVD review
Not rated by the Motion Picture Association of America rating: 4 1/2 stars
Director: Pernille Rose Gr°nkjŠ   Distributor: Koch Lorber Films
DVD release: 05 February 2008   Runtime: 85 min. (1 disc)
Format: Color, DVD-Video, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
DVD Features: Languages (Danish, English, Russian), Subtitles (English), Deleted scenes; Original theatrical trailer

There are two kinds of documentaries: the first is meant to inform and teach, while the second simply offers a story and provokes thoughts or feelings. Mr. Vig's story falls into the latter category. The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun follows the lifelong goal to create within an old, run-down castle his "enduring testament."

Mr. Vig, the gentleman - for we must call him a "gentleman" and not "a guy" or just "a man" - appears to be infinitely aged and passionate in his quest to create a lasting legacy in the form of a monastery. (In point of fact, it is the only thing he appears to be passionate about!) A very small group of nuns is assigned to him by the Russian church. Nun Amvrosija is the nun who takes charge and really pushes the project forward. As they work together, their stubborn personalities butt heads on more than one occasion.

He mumbles and shambles around. He sighs and snuffles, and quietly barks out "what!" and "why!" often. And "hmmm. yes, yes" very often. He stumps slowly around his home, determined and often agitated. His opinions on life and love and even sex are so enjoyable, when they are being dragged out of him by the director. With all of his discriminatory thoughts - from Russians having no conscience to hating people with inexplicably dreadful noses - he is a fascinating, if difficult, gentleman. Just his face is a human interest story. if they never spoke, his face would be enough.

The young nun is the perfect mate for this project, and her animation directly contrasts his slow, mellow way of approaching the project. The continual amusement with his constant serious demeanor really makes the film interesting to watch. The frequent disagreements between Mr. Vig and the nun punctuate the path to a goal that becomes their shared vision.

The filming is incredibly beautiful, from the blues of the rains to the vibrant foliage on the lands surrounding the castle, to something as simple as ancient dust in the air as they clean. It's insightful and offers a backdrop of muted emotion when Mr. Vig tries so hard to show none.

Researching online, it is easy to find out that Mr. Vig of Denmark was 82 when they began this project, but that doesn't come through in the film itself. Also, there is mention that it was a five-year-long situation, and that also definitely isn't clear in watching his story. The lack of definitive ending leaves one feeling unsettled, as perhaps is the goal. Still, it neither feels good nor offers any sense of closure when things are left up in the air.

Even so, even for someone who isn't an avid documentary fan, The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun tilts the world into clearer focus, ever so slightly.
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reviewed by Carolynn Evans
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