The Greatest Documentaries of All Time: Heidi Ewing on ‘The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun’

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Every few years I see a film so astonishingly well-crafted, warm-hearted and outright beautiful that I am overcome with a combination of admiration and envy that can only be described as the anti-schadenfreude — an “I want only great things to happen for this film…and I also wish I had made it” kind of vibe. This sensation last overtook me in when I saw The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun while attending IDFA in 2006 with Jesus Camp.

Danish filmmaker Pernille Rose Grønkjær – those Danes, they just keep it coming with excellent films – bring us the story of Mr. Vig, an 82 year-old recluse who finally gets his wish of turning his dilapidated castle in Denmark into a working monastery. But when the Russian Orthodox nuns finally arrive to occupy the place, he is confronted with the irritations of actually having to listen to the opinions of others…and women at that. What ensues is a tale of humor and heartbreak so perfectly concocted that the director’s love for her subjects is absorbed like a potion by the audience at large.

Almost all the films I have been involved with thus far have relied on an extrovert of some type to help carry the film. But crafting a documentary about a true introvert, a lonely and silent watcher of the world who very seldom interacts with his fellow man, is a different kind of challenge. But somehow the director is able to expertly capture Mr. Vig’s all too human frustrations, insecurities and humanity in a manner where he literally, in front of our very eyes, learns to not just tolerate others but to lean on them, even to love them. It’s an incredible feat of storytelling for a film of fact or fiction.

A rundown castle? A chaste love affair with a nun named Sister Amvrosija? What’s not to love? The visual and musical components run like the best of narratives to boot. This is a truly a great movie.

Film director and producer Heidi Ewing along with her creative partner, Rachel Grady, run Loki Films whose latest work, Detropia, is due out on DVD & Blu-ray on January 15, 2013.

Help choose The Greatest Documentaries of All Time! Vote by Thursday, November 29, 2012.

POV Guest Blogger
POV Guest Blogger
POV (a cinema term for "point of view") is television's longest-running showcase for independent non-fiction films. POV premieres 14-16 of the best, boldest and most innovative programs every year on PBS. Since 1988, POV has presented over 300 films to public television audiences across the country. POV films are known for their intimacy, their unforgettable storytelling and their timeliness, putting a human face on contemporary social issues.
  • Semi

    I have just watched this documentary. I thought Mr. Vig was amazing – noble, learned, selfless. He also had great insight into himself and was honest.

    I was not such a fan of ‘the nun’ – Given $7 million worth of pristine land in perpetuity (with few limitations), her reaction is to turn up her nose and criticize and complain about everything. And I consider myself a feminist.

    I could barely watch the documentary, I thought she was so horrible and patronizing to him. The reviewer above called their interactions a ‘chaste love affair’ but to me, she was a source of nothing but stress to this generous man.

    I kept waiting for someone to tell her that she was not an expert on everything, that she was manipulative bordering on being a liar, and that if she had so many demands, she could pack up and go. Sadly, no one did.