http://movies.nytimes.com/2007/08/29/movies/29nun.html?ref=moviesThe Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun (2006)
A Misanthrope and His Crumbling Castle
By STEPHEN HOLDEN
Published: August 29, 2007
Jorgen Lauersen Vig, the solitary 80-something misanthrope who inhabits the dilapidated Hesbjerg Castle in the Danish countryside, resembles a gaunt, white-bearded magician from a dusty old storybook who has stepped out of a woodblock illustration into the 21st century.
Interviewed in Pernille Rose Gronkjaer's documentary, "The Monastery: Mr. Vig & the Nun," he comes across as a hybrid of quasi-Dickensian curmudgeon and modern grumpy old man. Despite his ancient appearance, Mr. Vig is remarkably spry and can scramble up a ladder with little effort. He is also shown tapping away at a computer. But in his black overcoat, he has the visage of a thunderous avenger who with a wave of a scepter could bring down the wrath of God.
The film, six years in the making, observes the complications that ensue after Mr. Vig decides to donate his castle to the Russian Orthodox Church so that it can be turned into a monastery. In its choice of subject, the project is as far off the beaten track of documentary filmmaking as you could imagine.
As the old man clashes with a group of strong-willed nuns who arrive from Moscow to inspect the crumbling structure, it poses a basic question: Are Band-Aids adequate to make the place habitable, or is major surgery required? Should the leaky roof, so heavy that it is destroying the walls beneath it, be repaired or replaced? Sister Ambrosija, the nuns' young and vigorous de facto leader, insists on surgery, while Mr. Vig advocates patchwork. By the end of the film, they have achieved a grudging mutual respect.
Despite some pretty seasonal photography and evocative scenes of the nuns' rigorous daily rituals, which involve many hours of prayer, "The Monastery" is a flighty, disorganized film with a blurry timeline and a wandering attention span. As the camera explores the place, some of the items it observes might be of interest to collectors for a Scandinavian edition of "Antiques Roadshow." Or not. The film lacks a coherent architectural overview of the castle's history, and its discussion of the cultural implications of a Russian Orthodox monastery in Denmark is superficial.
The movie only snaps into focus when Mr. Vig, who bought the castle 50 years earlier, intending eventually to turn it into a monastery, reminisces about his life. The one person who seems to have emotionally touched him was his father, whose death plunged him into protracted mourning. A dour bachelor, he professes a lifelong suspicion of sex and the unhappiness it must bring. Sadly, since Sister Ambrosija's story remains untold, the documentary feels incomplete.
Mr. Vig & the Nun
Opens today in Manhattan.
Directed by Pernille Rose Gronkjaer; in English, Danish and Russian, with English subtitles; director of photography, Ms. Gronkjaer; edited by Pernille Bech Christensen; music by Johan Soderqvist; produced by Sigrid Dyekjaer; released by Koch Lorber Films. At Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, west of Avenue of the Americas, South Village. Running time: 84 minutes. This film is not rated.