Philip Gröning’s 3-hour fly-on-the-wall look at life in the Grande Chartreuse, a monastery for members of the Carthusian Order, is equally mesmerizing and pointless. The men, seeking a concept of abstracted bliss someplace between religious devotion, prayer, self-denial, domestic routine and self-indulgence, lead a life of repetition and orderly acceptance in a sort of silent commune, like an all-boys boarding school where you never matriculate. Amid the spectacular Alpine setting, and following the changing seasons, Gröning lets the place & personalities speak for themselves, playing out dramas as small as cleaning vegetables and as large as death sans comment. A bit of explanation could help here & here, but it might knock us out of the state-of-grace reverie Gröning is going for. The tactic works beautifully for the first hour or so, but after a while, a dram of the monks’ famous liqueur might ease a temptation to reach for the FF button on the remote.
DOUBLE-BILL: Monks, monasteries, secret liqueur recipes; why it’s THE GARDEN OF ALLAH/’36!, as silly and glamorous a piece of nonsense as you could find. Still, it’s fun to think of producer David O. Selznick doing serious research on a place just like Le Grande Chartreuse for his gorgeous romantic claptrap with Marlene Dietrich & Charles Boyer.