Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Monastery: Mr Vig & The Nun

A friend was kind enough to send me a copy of the film The Monastery: Mr Vig & The Nun (2006) on DVD (trailer). It’s a slow, thoughtful, meditative documentary exploring the five-year relationship between Jorgen Lauersen Vig, an aged and eccentric Danish bachelor with a beard growing from his neck alone and a penchant for large furry hats, and Mother Amvrosija, a young nun from the large Shamardino Convent in Russia. Fifty years previous Mr Vig had bought Hesbjerg Castle in the Danish countryside with the intention of turning it into a monastery, but nothing had come of it. Now, in his old age, he travels to Moscow and comes to an agreement with the Moscow Patriarchate to have nuns and a priest sent to the castle to establish a convent. The Russian delegation is headed by the energetic young Mother Ambrosija, a strong willed and independent nun. Conflicts arise concerning restoration of the decaying castle, its legal status, and Mr Vig’s last will and testament, while the nuns set about the practical and pragmatic work of restoring the castle and creating a chapel.

The narrative arc that the film tries to establish is that poor Mr Vig got more than he was asking for in Mother Amvrosija, who does not correspond to the docile and meek image of a nun he had expected. We are, I believe, expected to sympathize with Mr Vig, the sorry old man who has never known love, who only once in his life embraced his mother, and who has a strong complex about noses. Watching the film, however, I could not but fully take the part of Mother Amvrosija, who is struggling to create a convent in real life, albeit by means Mr Vig finds suspect. It is unclear whether Mr Vig is Orthodox, but it is clear that his dream and Mother Amvrosija’s reality are two very different thing: and I can’t help but think the latter the more sensible. Mr Vig strikes me as the sort of enduringly eccentric character one might find in Dickens, and Mother Amvrosija as a no-nonsense nun looking out for the best interests of the Church.

It’s a slow, melancholy film, worthy of repeated viewing. Recommended.

UPDATE: The same person who sent me the DVD informed me that Mr Vig was indeed Baptized Orthodox in Russia, taking the name Gregory. May his memory be eternal!


aaronandbrighid said...

I loved this film, and more than the melancholia, the humour is what stuck with me. Remember when Vig is showing Mother Amvrosija around, & he makes that comment about the similarity between Buddhism & Xianity, & Mother Amvrosija looks at the camera when his back is turned & shakes her head? Also, my sympathies were so much with the nun that it never occurred to me that the film-maker might have intended otherwise.

David.R said...

I really liked this film. I was stricken by the processions around the church with Mr Vig following. I was crying actually, very moving.
Mr Vig may have been reluctant but in the end I had the feeling that he indeed submitted to the will of God in his circumstances. I always pray for him, when I pray for my departed loved ones. May his memory be eternal!

Elijahmaria said...

A friend sent Mr. Vig and Pyotr Mamonov's Ostrov and I've watched them over and over again, laughing and crying. I haven't seen Mamonov in Tsar yet but hoping...soon.