"The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun": Reality Beyond the Fiction By Atilla Dorsay

in 54th Sydney Film Festival

by Atilla Dorsay

This Mr. Vig is a strange fellow. He is a kind of lonely man, living in his old, rundown Danish castle bought half a century ago, turned in a kind of church and apparently left alone since, with its leaking roof, cracking walls and dodgy heating. In this building, Mr. Vig has dedicated himself to teach the laws of the Lord in his way and ignored all kinds of human relations. He is a very old man now, into his eighties. But, as he admits modestly, he was not too handsome in his youth either. Instead of his charming mother, he inherited the impossible nose of his father, never known love (except a little high school flirt!) and never had a family. Even in his love to God, he was frivolous: he is just an “ex-priest” now. He perfectly manages self-criticism and self-mockery and better teases himself than the others. He is a unique person one is just happy to have met.

But in this basically two-character buddy-buddy film in the best American style, Mr. Vig is not someone who came out of the creative mind of a, let’s say, Billy Wilder-I. A. L. Diamond team — a variation of a Walter Matthau-like character — but he is a very authentic person. The main asset of this unique documentary is to have discovered Mr. Vig in his lost manor at the Danish countryside and having wisely decided to turn his story into a film. The other character, the Jack Lemmon of the film is also an unlikely, but finally authentic person, a Russian nun leading a group of them from their homeland, on the orders of their orthodox church, to come to an agreement with Mr. Vig in order to turn the building into an orthodox monastery. Of course, Mr. Vig is very much aware that this is the only chance for the survival of his dear home. But he can not help himself from struggling all the time with the sister Ambrosija, showing her constantly his misogynous face, his embitterment and his egotism. But God is of course a very good scriptwriter, surely the best. So Sister Ambrosjia happens to be a very good match for Mr. Vig. Despite her relatively young age, she is a determined, obstinate woman, a kind of mystical feminist and nothing is likely to stop her from fulfilling her orders which she has now made a dream of her own, namely, to see this cracking building turned into a women’s monastery. She will eventually have to leave, but she’ll be back in spring, as always in good stories, to achieve this job. And Mr. Vig, ready to go for so long, will have to wait a little until everything is settled.

This charming film is a true heart winner, one of those films which show that the reality is always more interesting than fiction. Provided you can catch it and see it, as it is in this film. The humor which comes from the characters themselves is always there, the camera moving masterly and the atmosphere ideally bitter-sweet. It would not be astonishing to see it soon turned into a fiction, with for instance Peter O’Toole as Mr. Vig. As for Sister Ambrosija, in the absence of the great Katharine and the retirement of Deborah Kerr or Glenda Jackson, the casting would take some time.

Yes, this was the Danish film The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun by Pernille Rose Gronkjaer, which we have chosen as the best film among the 14 documentaries seen at this year’s Sydney Film Festival, the 54th. Many interesting, even good works among which we agreed to mention included the Australian In Our Name by Christopher Tucklifeld, a new, brave and strong account on the torture and the way it is being legalized in our harsh epoch. Also, the American Operation Filmmaker by Nina Davenport was an interesting film about probably the only Iraqi of these times who keeps repeating “I Like the President Bush”. But, despite this and his obvious talent in filmmaking, he can not entirely start a new life in the Anglo-Saxon countries as he had hoped. Finally, the very personal and humoristic American Wild Awake by Alan Berliner, was a treat for all the sleepless in the world, including the ones in Seattle!


in 54th Sydney Film Festival