I walk by a wonderful video rental store, called That’s Rentertainment, on my way to and from work. It has an amazing collection of foreign and independent films, anime, TV, and documentaries, as well as knowledgeable staff. The prices are good, too, so it often makes sense to take a chance on a movie I’ve never heard about before. One of these was director Pernille Rose Grønkjær’s, The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun (Slottet, or The Castle in Danish).
The description won’t appeal to everyone, and at times it may seem slow or disjointed. But it’s an unexpectedly good movie.
The true story is about Jørgen Laursen Vig, who lives alone in the derelict Hesbjerg Castle near Odense. His lifelong dream has been to create a monastery. Nearing the end of his life he turns to Russia and invites the Russian Patriarchate to use his castle as the site. They send Nun Amvrosija and a few others to assess the situation and begin the process of creating the monastery. As anyone might suspect, there are good intentions in the beginning, but problems arise as it becomes more a reality.
Through these events the film explores friendship, and what Allan Berg Nielsen describes in an excellent essay as The Manifold Nature of Love. It’s about life dreams, loss, and the challenge of opening up to others. Grønkjær (see photo), the director, is the interviewer, and becomes entwined at times in these questions.
At one point, Vig becomes frustrated with Nun Amvrosija. They argue about trivial things, while not addressing the larger issues. Perhaps he feels he’s losing control of the project. Referring to her, he says:
Vig: It’s hard to argue with people who are always right. Who don’t …
Grønkjær (interviewing): What if she came here just as much for you as for the monastery?
Vig: For me? I don’t know how to react to that. It’s the project we’re talking about, not me. Because that’s not what is needed.
A little later he grows discouraged, and puzzled:
Vig: I can’t solve all the problems.
Grønkjær: It’s not a problem, Vig.
Vig: Perhaps they’re problems you women have.
Grønkjær: We haven’t any problems.
Vig: You have feelings, or whatever. Things like that are not my business. I stay out of it.
That excerpt suggests the movies is about gender. It is, but one could also say that it’s about age, religion, nationality, language, and more than anything, about people trying to come together about things they both want, but struggle to achieve.
Nun Amvrosija writes to Mr. Vig:
Dear Mr. Vig, We were together for almost five years. We were very different, yet we were doing the same thing. We often disagreed with each other. But the Lord directs everything in His wisdom. Our Lord laid this gift in your hands. A gift which I believe opened the gates of paradise to you. I wish for the kingdom of heaven and eternal peace. Dear Mr. Vig, servant of Our Lord.
Vig is not only a fascinating character in the movie, but must have been throughout his life as well. See his East-West Seminar at Hesbjerg, 1995.
Today the monastery is run by Nun Amvrosija. A Russian Orthodox priest comes from Copenhagen to carry out the services. The Russian Patriarchate and the Hesbjerg Foundation now set the future plans for the monastery.