The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun [subtitled in part]

The Monastery. Mr. Vig and the Nun

I liked the description of The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun a lot more than the movie itself.

It’s a documentary about a crotchety octogenarian Danish man who seeks to donate the decrepit castle he owns to the Russian Orthodox Church. (If he’s a member of that religion, or if his ancestry is Russian, it isn’t stated, at least not that I caught. He mentions having spent some time at a Benedictine—not Russian Orthodox—monastery when he was young. So I’m not sure why he picks the Russian Orthodox Church.)

The Church sends a delegation led by a headstrong young nun to check it out. Over the course of the next six years (I’m not sure how much of that time is actually depicted in the movie; I got the impression it was more like a year or so), the nun and her team and the old man hammer out arrangements for necessary repairs and renovations, and for the terms upon which the property will be turned over to the Church.

As the property is worked on, their relationship develops, with the old man responding favorably to her in some respects, but also feeling ambivalence about how his say over things is constantly diminishing. His temper flares up occasionally, but it’s always temporary and ineffectual in the face of the nun’s no-nonsense, get-it-done style.

The movie is billed as being about the conflict between this mismatched pair, and there are indeed some interesting and amusing elements there, but not enough. I frankly experienced the bulk of this film as slow and boring.

It frustrated me, because I felt there was a much better movie trying to claw its way out of this. I wanted to dig deeper into the human issues, to get to know these two characters a lot better, especially the old man.

I would have cut out half or more of the scenes about repairing the roof and doing this or that with the heating system, and the small talk of the old man and the Russians greeting each other and sitting around eating and such. I mean, some of that is OK for showing the context and development of the relationship between the old man and the nun, but that’s why I’d eliminate half of it instead of all of it.

I wanted far more interview material. The nun is observed but not interviewed. (Perhaps she didn’t agree to be interviewed.) The old man is interviewed intermittently throughout the movie, and numerous times he makes intriguing passing comments and dismissive remarks that are tantalizing clues as to his misanthropic and eccentric worldview.

But lay all of those insightful moments end to end and it’s something like four minutes. He’s such a promising character, I’d have preferred at least forty minutes of straight interviews (plus maybe some good interview time with the nun) where he’s probed on all these subjects that come up so briefly. But maybe this is all he was willing to talk about himself, even over the course of years.

He says that his mother was nice and his father stern and invariably critical, yet that his father was the only person he’s felt close to his whole life, while any warmth between him and his mother was awkward and forced—only kissed her once in his life, and even then only because he thought he was supposed to. He’s never had a girlfriend. He thinks sex is overrated—only lasts a week or two anyway, so what’s the big deal? He doesn’t understand women and their myriad “problems,” in part because he has no truck with emotions in general. He’s self-deprecating enough and self-aware enough to know there’s something wrong with being the way he is, but he also knows he’s not about to change at his age. As he approaches death, he’s focused on turning this castle over to the Church as the one thing he can do that will leave a positive mark on the world, the one act of his that can live on after he’s gone.

All very promising stuff, just way too little follow-up.

He’s a very limited, somewhat sour person, but still with a certain spark of idealism in him. More a sympathetic character than not. He is all he knows how to be.

I wanted to know Mr. Vig better. I feel like I got some suggestive, intriguing snippets when what I wanted was a movie.


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