Essene (Wiseman, 1972)

Essene (Frederick Wiseman, 1972)

This film was rather obviously an influence on one of my favorites, Into Great Silence. Wiseman brings the lives of a group of monks in a Benedictine monastery to film. We see them care for the grounds, discuss theology, pray together, and even council about conflicts in the community. The people featured in this documentary seem genuine in their walks with God. Their actions and words are much more interesting as a result. The film features several short sermons, stories, and prayer circles that are mostly fascinating to witness, even for someone who sees this kind of stuff often.

Towards the end of the film, though, these sermons start to dominate, which brings the film down slightly. This isn’t because what is being said is uninteresting, but more because the following of the monks’ everyday lives is a rarer treat to witness. We see them mow the grass, upkeep their rooms, and we even follow one man to the hardware store where he jokes with the store owner. (This same man is involved in a hilarious interview discussing the use of first names where he interrupts the interview to go after a fly with his flyswatter.) This was a great film and my first experience with a Wiseman film, but I definitely plan to take in more of his stuff.  9.25/10

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