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Review: The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun

Pernille Rose Grønkjær’s film remains a moving testament to humanitarian goodness.

The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun

“It’s an old ambition—to create something enduring.” So says the curmudgeony old Mr. Vig when probed as to why he’s donating his castle in to the Russian Orthodox Church for use as a monastery. Vacant for nearly 40 years, save for himself and the occasional believer passing through, the building is a derelict one, its many chambers and passages having fallen into disrepair from their almost complete lack of use. Similarly, Mr. Vig—a lifelong virgin and a borderline misanthrope—is a being whose purposes have gone largely unnoticed, his desire to help others in finding their own personal truths superceding his own ingrained bitterness at life’s many trials and disappointments. Compiled from footage collected over six years, Pernille Rose Grønkjær’s portrait of Mr. Vig is one of affecting honesty, her camera acting not so much as a simple recording device as an unbiased witness, the minimalist production values echoing Lars von Trier’s dogma aesthetic in providing an earthly, everyday setting in which to root the miraculous. Seen at his most personal and unguarded, Grønkjær’s subject is like an unwitting saint, despite his asocial behavior, childish temper, racist sentiments, and a bizarre fixation with nasal imperfections; we come to overlook these shortcomings because they are overshadowed by his desire to do a universal good during his time on this earth. When the renovations of his castle begin and a group of nuns arrive to oversee the conversion of the building, Sister Amvrosya’s loving but commanding presence provides a clashing force for Mr. Vig’s set-in-stone attitudes and general naïveté, their bantering recalling Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart’s chemistry in John Huston’s The African Queen. Grønkjær’s dedication to Mr. Vig’s quest is implicit in the film’s lingering presence, and though certain decisions partially undermine the film’s accruing sense of spiritual thrust (such as the schmaltzy scoring to a series of transitional montages), her work remains a moving testament to humanitarian goodness.

Cast: Jørgen Lauersen Vig, Sister Amvrosya, Pernille Rose Grønkjær Director: Pernille Rose Grønkjær Running Time: 84 min Rating: NR Year: 2006 Buy: Video

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