Judge Daryl Loomis believes he has just seen himself in fifty years.
Nuns don't get tired.
At 82, Mr. Vig knows he's not going to live forever. He has no children, however, and has never been married. All he has to leave the world after he passes is a ramshackle castle he bought cut-rate forty years ago. As a final act, he decides to give his home to the Russian Orthodox Church to serve as a monastery. A noble gesture, but the place needs work and lots of it. To oversee the repairs, the church sends out Sister Amvrosija, a powerful nun who's not afraid to lay the hammer down. Together, they live in the castle and work to make it a place suitable for worship.
The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun is a true slice of life documentary, showing ordinary poeple doing ordinary things. The church doesn't want giant golden steeples, but they do need a roof that won't fall in on the monks' heads. The pair squabbles about the extent of the damage and bickers over the cost of the repairs. They sound like a married couple, except Sister Amvrosija is married to Jesus and Mr. Vig is married to solitude. Their sharp tone belies the deep affection they have for each other, an affection that is tested when big finance gets involved. Watching them go about their days builds a connection with the viewer as well. Mr. Vig is a curmudgeon's curmudgeon and Sister Amvrosija is the picture of the severe nun, but they are charming people full of character and good intentions.
Director Pernille Rose Grønkjær has painted a nicely detailed, though fairly mundane, portrait of conflicting personalities working toward a common end. Through the mornings and nights she spends with these people, she builds an intimacy that is disarmingly real and charmingly funny. Like a version of This Old House with a castle or a The Money Pit with funny parts, Mr. Vig and the Nun keeps its focus narrowly trained on the logistics of repairs and the human conflict that comes out without getting involved in any of the religious and cultural issues that would undoubtedly fall out of this project. By this, the subject is always clear, but there is very little narrative to drive the film. The characters are amusing and interesting enough that the film moves along well, but the lack of change means that scenes tend to run together and is an occasionally slow 85 minutes. However, Mr. Vig is full of curmudgeonly wisdom about staying away from love and sports a classic neck beard. Sister Amvrosija is stern and mean but a capable and charismatic leader. With the periodic appearance of a cute novice, the story flow generally flows nicely.
The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun is so intimate because the camerawork. Shot on a handheld video camera, it peeks into every corner of the castle and shows just how massive such a place is for an old man. The camera stays on the people long enough to give us a sense not only of what they are doing, but exactly how and why they are doing it. There is no narration, just dialog from the people and the occasional question from the director to dig deeper into their motivations. The story moves visually and Grønkjær does very well to let the situation tell the story. The image and sound are both adequate for the film, but neither has a lot to do. The transfer looks surprisingly clear for the cheapness of the video used and the stereo sound is very clear. It is strange that, though the film is from Denmark and the majority of the dialog is in Danish, the characters speak a lot of barely understandable English. It isn't for the benefit of the director, who is also Danish, so I'm not sure the point of it. The subtitles are easy to read, so it doesn't really matter, but I found it a strange choice.
The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun is an interesting glimpse into the lives of a recluse and a nun, types of people not often in the sight of the camera. Sometimes funny, sometimes dull, and sometimes emotional, Pernille Rose Grønkjær shows us an unadorned reality that can draw parallels in many lives.
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