The Monastery: Mr. Vig And The Nun
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The Monastery: Mr. Vig And The Nun

Pernille Rose Grønkjær's documentary The Monastery: Mr. Vig And The Nun, is about Jørgen Laursen Vig, a cranky Danish octogenarian whose long white beard emerges wholly from his neck—not his chin or jaw—and whose enormous glasses stay perched on the tip of his nose, like a cartoon character's. Grønkjær keeps up a constant dialogue with Vig from just off-camera, finding out that her subject has never been married (or even in love), and that he admired his stern father more than his loving mother. Vig's sole legacy is an ancient castle that he bought in his 30s, and that he's been trying to get converted into a monastery, for use by anyone who wants it. When a group of Russian nuns takes him up on his offer, Vig undergoes an existential crisis, as he struggles with how to let go of his only real asset, and subsequently, the care of his memory.

The Monastery is one of the few documentaries that might've gotten closer to the reality of its time, place, and people had it been refashioned as a feature film. While Vig is a fascinating character to spend 20 or 30 minutes with, he's so relentlessly joyless and set in his ways that it's hard to feel much sympathy for him, or to look forward to another dour monologue about his hard life. That said, there's an undeniable poignancy to the way he putters from room to room, fussing at the nuns' spokesperson, Sister Ambrosija, for the way she changes the décor or hires construction crews. Vig's worried that she's going to alter the castle so much that his gift won't be "his" gift any more. She's worried about bringing her order into a livable space. Between their bickering, Grønkjær's offscreen prompting, and the sappy, ubiquitous soundtrack, The Monastery is like the opposite of Into Great Silence.

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