Dear Mr. Vig

December 6th, 2010

The Monastery: Mr. Vig & The Nun is a touching documentary about an old man's dream that, when it becomes reality, challenges him to expand his vision beyond his narrow conception. Jorgen Laursen Vig, or Mr. Vig as he is referred to throughout the film, bought the decrepit Hesbjerg Castle in the Danish countryside 50 years ago and has been steadily, albeit slowly, restoring the castle in preparation for use as a Russian Orthodox Monastery. The film opens with a clip of Mr. Vig meandering about the castle doing last minute tidying before Sister Amvrosija and another nun arrived to inspect the premise. There is a charming quality to his bumbling, disheveled demeanor. His hair is tangled and stringy and his trousers are far too big, which he stuffs into the winter boots he seems to wear in all seasons. He ponders whether nuns smoke and debates with himself whether or not to leave a Buddhist tapestry hung on the wall of the nun's bedroom. Neglecting that they are strict Russian Orthodox nuns, he leaves the tapestry because he likes it. Needless to say, Sister Amvrosija did not approve, nor did she care for the Chinese 'opium bed' that Mr. Vig was so fond of.

Mr. Vig is a stubborn, misanthropic yet mellow-mannered man, but there is a persistent fire that burns inside of him, even at the age of 82. When asked why he's relentlessly clung to the notion of establishing a monastery, he replied that it was simply "an old ambition to create something enduring." The documentary was filmed over the course of 5 years, and in that time, through frank, seemingly inconsequential statements Mr. Vig makes, we get a glimpse into the sadness and loneliness he has endured throughout his life. He tells us that he's never had a girlfriend, much less been in love. Reflecting upon this, he says, "Perhaps I paid too much attention to their noses. Or other things I didn't like." Later, he tells us that he has a bit of a complex about noses. He looks at his own nose in a picture from younger days and says there isn't anything visibly wrong with it, then says his father had a better nose than his mother. He says her nose was dreadful. He thinks maybe that was the reason that he never felt a connection with her. In this way, Mr. Vig is revealed as a deeply wounded tragic character but I felt, despite his crotchety old ways and eccentricities, a happiness for him when the nuns returned to set up the monastery. Though he would never have overtly expressed gratitude for their return, we see his happiness in the way he jovially (by his standards) teases the cat. I didn't know quite what to expect from a documentary about a life-long bachelor opening his castle for use as a monastery, but what I got was a beautiful story about the way love can creep into your life when you least expect it, even when you guard yourself against it. This is a movie to warm your heart on a blustery winter night.

A Monastery: Mr. Vig & The Nun clips from IMDb. A Monastery: Mr. Vig & The Nun won the Joris Ivens Award at the Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival (2006) and the Bodil Award for Best Documentary Film (2008).

Caroline Engel for Danish Teak Classics

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