The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun

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Koch Lorber Films

NEW YORK -- This Danish film demonstrates again that reality trumps fiction. It gives an evocative portrait of the real-life interactions between two memorable characters: an elderly bachelor living in a dilapidated castle and the no-nonsense nun sent to deal with him after he donates it to the Russian Orthodox Church.

Playing like something that in older days would have been cast with Walter Huston and Ingrid Bergman, "The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun" is one of the more intriguing documentaries around. It recently received its U.S. theatrical premiere at New York's Film Forum.

The gaunt, bearded, 82-year-old Vig has never been married, and indeed has avoided most human connections after the death of his father. Although he looks like a haunted figure from the distant past, he's kept up with the times, as illustrated by the scene in which he works away on his computer.

When he donates his run-down castle to the church with the intention of having it turned into a monastery, the young Sister Ambrosija visits to determine its suitability. She decides that it needs work, a lot of work, which the grumpy Vig claims he can do all by himself. The resulting clashes between the strong-minded pair form the heart of the film, though anyone contemplating a feature remake can rest assured that they eventually reach a level of mutual respect.

Director Pernille Rose Gronkjaer doesn't fully exploit the potential of the situation, unfortunately allowing the film to have a slack quality that detracts from its effectiveness. Although one can respect her unwillingness to distort reality, too often "Monastery" loses focus, feeling much longer than its 84-minute running time. Another flaw is the fact that, for whatever reason, we learn much more about Vig than his strong-willed overseer. Providing partial compensation is the cinematography, also by Gronkjaer, which captures the landscape and the crumbling building in all its ancient beauty.

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