Thinking big with Vig

Pub date October 23, 2007
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review


All of my prior attempts to write about The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun came to a screeching halt on describing the physical presence of the man at the documentary’s center, Jørgen Lauersen Vig. The sullenness of Vig’s features (accentuated by long white hair that, together with an outrageously wild-looking beard, forms a halo of sorts around his face) and his tall, slender, and raggedy-clothed figure cause him to resemble a hero from a novel by Nikolay Gogol. But unlike the Russian writer’s characters, Vig is very much real. His harsh, imposing appearance is hard to overlook.

The enigmatic Vig’s attachment to the run-down castle he’s determined to convert into a monastery only adds to his mystique. The Monastery‘s basic scenario suits its crude aesthetics. As if the presentation of a hard-boiled, aged man who spends his days alone in his slowly decaying shelter weren’t enough, the documentary’s rough human and physical landscape is completed by Sister Amvrosija, the leader of a delegation of nuns that the Russian Patriarchate sends to Denmark in order to evaluate the castle and help with its renovation.

Clad in her long black gown and immersed in her ascetic ways, Sister Amvrosija is as stubborn and opinionated as Vig. Filming their difficult coexistence with a sometimes unobtrusive and other times questioning camera, Danish filmmaker Pernille Rose Grønkjær clearly intends to add a bit of lyricism to this true story. She observes as the childlike energy and enthusiasm that the octogenarian initially brings to all of the bureaucratic and material needs of his estate give way to stronger displays of frustration. It’s clear that the numerous confrontations Vig has with Sister Amvrosija are gradually wearing him down.

Although Vig’s initial motives for forming a monastery are hard to comprehend (at one point it’s even suggested that he turned to the church as a source of free labor), it becomes evident that he urgently wants to create something enduring. Grønkjær’s film reveals a sensitive person in great distress. Faced with the revelation that fighting his mortality is hopeless, he reevaluates (and sometimes even shows signs of regretting) his past and is under the painful and somewhat false impression that he’s emotionally crippled. This man — fierce looking, socially awkward, romantically immature, with the temperament of a little boy — is one of the most fascinating and inspiring characters to emerge from a film in some time.


Oct. 26–31

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