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BY Steven D. Greydanus
In 2009, two films were released with the title No Greater Love. One, with shades of Fireproof, is an Evangelical-produced drama about marriage woes and recovery. Forget that one. The one I’m interested in suggests shades of Into Great Silence, Philip Groning’s transcendent cinematic portrait of Carthusian spirituality.
British filmmaker Michael Whyte’s indie documentary No Greater Love takes us into the silence of Most Holy Trinity, a monastery of Carmelite nuns unobtrusively situated in the fashionable Notting Hill area of West London. (My interview with Whyte is in today’s Register Web Exclusives.)
Much like Groning, who waited 16 years for permission to film the monks at the Grand Chartreuse monastery, White corresponded with the nuns for 10 years before they opened their doors to him. Unlike Groning, he didn’t have to go to the French Alps to film his subjects—the monastery is across the square from where he lives. Another notable difference: Where Groning wasn’t allowed to interview the Carthusians, Whyte did interview the Carmelites. Here’s an excerpt from an intriguing article on the film in Sight & Sound, “The Big Wait”:
It’s these interviews which give No Greater Love such a distinctive feel, helping differentiate it from Philip Gröning’s more abstract study of Carthusian monks, Into Great Silence. The nuns here talk eloquently about the difficulties of maintaining an existence of religious contemplation and affirm their belief in the value of silence and prayer.
I haven’t had a chance to see the film yet, but I’m intrigued by the reviews I’ve read so far. Here’s the Independent:
[White] captures something of its severe self-discipline ... but also its strange merriment, as the nuns go about their work (gardening, laundering, cooking) and talk on camera about their vocation. Their honesty is sometimes poignant, and humbling - one sister talks of a period of doubt that lasted 18 years; another describes her own torments of the soul as ‘darkness, boredom, dryness, deadness’. It absolutely discredits the idea of a nunnery as an escape from reality, for these women are obliged to face their own self all day, every day: what could be more ‘real’ than that?
Here’s another from Empire:
The sisters’ insights into a life of seclusion, contemplation and intercession are courageous and compelling, while the revelations about self-discovery, doubt and divine consolation are laudably frank and deeply moving.
When is No Greater Love coming to the States? You’ll know as soon as I do. In the meantime, here’s my interview with Whyte.