Less like a movie and more like a sensory-deprivation experiment, German filmmaker Philip Gröning's "Into Great Silence" seems designed...

Less like a movie and more like a sensory-deprivation experiment, German filmmaker Philip Gröning’s “Into Great Silence” seems designed to put you into a trance. If you’re in the mood, you just might levitate.

If you’re not in the mood, you may respond with impatience. At the promotional screening I attended, several audience members headed for the exit door long before the 162-minute film entered its second hour. The deliberate, contemplative pace requires an adjustment, but it’s worth the effort.

Filmed entirely at the Grand Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps, the movie at first gorges on the fairy-tale beauty of the place, using time-lapse photography of stars and clouds to create a trippy effect. But there is no score, no voiceover to explain what we’re seeing, and Gröning sometimes focuses on material that might, in other circumstances, seem more appropriate to an oil painting.

A monk prays. Another one repairs a shoe. The monks cut each other’s hair. They play in the snow. The cameras seem to spy on the men through barely opened doors. A plane flies overhead without making a sound. A shot of a basket of ripe fruit seems to call out to be framed.

To bring this material alive, Gröning uses a mesmerizing mixture of sharp cinematography (the mist-covered mountains are startlingly crisp) and fuzzy home-movie effects. The grainy visual quality seems to draw out the dust in the air; it also hints at the presence of molecules, atoms and other invisible forces.

Also suggesting a life of their own: the furry eyebrows of a blind monk who regards his disability as a gift from God. The monks stare at the camera; rarely are we told what they’re thinking, but the blind man seems to speak for everyone when he talks about his unquestioning spirit.

On a philosophical level, “Into Great Silence” emphasizes the virtues of the ascetic life, returning again and again to the idea of giving away all possessions in order to become a true disciple. Compared with the materialism, intolerance and violence that now dominate most public discussion of religions, their priorities seem almost revolutionary.

John Hartl: johnhartl@yahoo.com