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4.4 out of 5 stars39
4.4 out of 5 stars
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82 of 82 people found the following review helpful
A documentary of nearly 1 hour 45 minutes that follows the lives of an order of devout nuns in a monastery, does not sound the most exciting of things to watch. Not exactly "Gone With the Wind" or "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", films incidentally that the nuns will never see in their TV-less surroundings. But I was in for a pleasant surprise! The documentary certainly proves to be entertaining, but in a more thoughtful way. The director Michael Whyte apparently spent ten years corresponding with the Most Holy Trinity monastery, in London's Notting Hill, home to the Discalced Order of Carmelite Nuns, before he was allowed in with the cameras. Whyte seems to be following in the footsteps of Philip Groning the director of "Into Great Silence", who had to wait 16 years before he was allowed to film the Carthusian monks inside the Grande Chartreuse monastery. In that film there is no narration whatsoever, unlike this film which is interspersed with short interviews with the monks.

In the film we watch the prayerful and devoted lives of the nuns in some detail. In their interviews it is apparent that they are very human, literate and good humoured. It is also crystal clear early on, that such a life of devotion would suit very few. The vows they solemnly take demand chastity, poverty and a life spent in solitude and prayer. Jesus speaking about it being "easier for a rich nan to go through the eye of a needle than to enter heaven", springs to mind. One nun talks about how she was made to finish her degree course at Cambridge, before her father would allow her into the monastery. Her father probably had some other career in mind for his bright daughter, but she received a much higher calling! We also see such scenes as nuns polishing a shining wooden floor, and wielding chainsaws in the garden. No matter what they are doing the habits remain on! The monastery has a wonderful look of austere cleanliness, which speaks of much hard work. Of course much time is spent in prayer and worship. The nuns have some very gifted singers amongst their number, and the singing is quite lovely. But it is not all work and prayer, as we see them dancing joyously together. Clearly the life does not mean you cannot have some innocent fun together.

The more of this documentary you watch, the more you realise how contented the nuns are with their lives. Some interesting questions are put to the nuns, one lead question being "Do you fear death". The answer is a thoughtfully answered no, and you believe her! These days the nuns do not have to fear rampaging Vikings, but there is something perhaps more dangerous and insidious that lurks just outside the monasteries cloistered walls. The monastery is in busy Notting Hill, in the pandemonium of London, where the destructive temptations of the modern world lurk in wait for the unwary. Not the best place one would think for a life of prayerful devotion and contemplation! The nuns are realistic that they cannot cut out the modern world altogether, but must make some concessions. It was interesting to see one nun doing some internet food shopping. I wonder if they ever go on Amazon? They seem to have a faith that allows them to embrace healthy new ideas, but not fall victim to the more sinister. The interviews reminded me much of those of the elderly Ardennes farmers in "Modern Life", in their naturalness and honesty. The filming seems to have been made using what natural light was available, so allowances should be made for the picture quality. I believe "Into Great Silence" was filmed in the same way! Film lighting would probably not have been conducive to worship! This is a fascinating documentary that gives you an insight into lives that are not so dull as we might imagine. There are a number of interesting extras, including further interviews. A thought provoking experience.
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49 of 49 people found the following review helpful
on 10 August 2010
This is very much on the lines of the film shown in cinemas a couple of years back "The Great Silence" but this time it concerns enclosed nuns instead of priests and frank I found it much easier to watch. There is a LOT of silence but the short interviews with the Carmelite sisters are beautifully done and their country dancing at recreation time is fantastic. And don't miss "Sister Luke's Party Piece" among the extras.
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34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on 25 August 2010
The area of Notting Hill, in west London, is known as the setting of the 1958 race riots, the annual British Caribbean carnival, and also of that idiotic 1999 romantic comedy starring Hugh Grant. A much lesser known fact about the area, unsurprisingly, is that it is also the location of a Carmelite Monastery situated on Saint Charles Square. The Carmelites, or the Order of the Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel to be more precise, is a Roman Catholic religious order of friars and nuns. The nuns live cloistered, and their main focus in life is contemplative prayer but, as they live in enclosed communities and try to be as self sufficient as possible, they also spend a large amount of their waking hours doing all the necessary work to keep the communities running as smoothly as possible. British filmmaker Michael Whyte, after ten long years of letter exchanges with the nuns of Saint Charles Square, in an attempt to gain permission to make a documentary about their daily routines, was finally granted access to the monastery, and for a year he quietly followed the women as they quietly prayed, cooked, worked and lived, and the footage resulted in the astonishing No Greater Love. For 100 minutes, No Greater Love takes us to a world of Beauty and Love that is unattainable in our lives, precisely because it is a Beauty and a Love that cannot only be attained by those whose main focus in life is to maintain a soul damaging cycle of work and consumption. Michael Whyte's cinematography of these women in their 132 year old building is breathtaking. It clearly evokes, as Kazuo Ichiguro said, the old Dutch masters, in its extraordinary chiaroscuro compositions of skin, wood and glass. Allow yourself an hour and forty minutes with White's masterpiece, and you'll understand why these women chose this Way, and peraphs you will manage to take some of its spirit with you.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 17 September 2010
In an age of increasing marginalisation of religion and increasing secularisation of society,the hustle and bustle of the global economy,the attacks by the leading atheists,the materialization of reality,this documentary gives the `still,small voice' of a cloistered community of Carmelite nuns,in a monastery in the heart of London. This is the Carmelite Monastery of The Most Holy Trinity,given over to a life of contemplative prayer.Set in acres of gardens and nature,the nuns give themselves up to a life of chastity,poverty and obedience,in surrender to God. These working nuns are seen cooking,washing,cleaning,gardening,sewing,using the internet to order tuna.Their primary work is prayer in silence.The still camera captures the interior stillness.

Camera and lighting is unobtrusive,the director uninvasive,gently asking interviewees questions about any fear of death,periods of doubt,the inability to escape oneself.The answers are surprisingly honest and humble. Interiors are darkly beautiful,wooded panels or floors or Dutch corridors open to sunlight.The film is centred chiefly on Holy Week,the passion,death and resurrection of Christ,without which 'life has no meaning'.We get a birth(a novitiate professes her vows) and a death,a Sister Mary,who is shown being buried in the enclosed cemetery, movingly.Aged 97.There is great reverence to the elderly members of the community,who are taken care of.

In some group scenes we see one or two postulants,candidates for admission to the religious order,who are not yet in habit.We see how the habit changes with added,concealed,interior crucifixes,for the professed daughters of Carmel.They have proved their willingness to accept life in a community of imperfect souls.The scapular they wear is a symbol of their dedication to Mary,and her motherly care for them.Their Prioress is shown washing, drying and kissing the feet of the nuns.The Prioress quotes Hopkins poem,"death life does end and each day dies with sleep", to show the cycle of each day,ending,preparing for the next.Each nun has individuality as well as community.The monastery grows fruit and vegetables for itself and manufactures communion wafers for other churches.

The power of the sacraments and devotion to the Virgin Mary are constant themes,also they pray to the Twelve Stations of the Cross.Their lives of total self-giving transcends all personal concerns,binding the community together,keeping the light of faith burning,through severe self-discipline.The ending is startling as the camera draws back, upwards and outwards into the darkening dusk lit up by moving traffic and streetlights.We see it in context.A film of quiet homage to the director,Whyte's,long wait to gain unprecedented access. A film to counter the impersonality of the mechanistic modern world to recall man to an awareness of the mystery of being.
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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 23 July 2010
I agree with previous reviewers on the general quality and atmosphere of this film. The sound is not very good though, particularly when the director of the film interviews the nuns and the priest. The extra material is remarkable also in its quality.

A nice window to a world full of silence and praying.
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77 of 79 people found the following review helpful
on 7 July 2010
The Carmelites of the Most Holy Trinity, Notting Hill lead us into silence and prayer, as we live through the hourly, daily and yearly cycle of monastic life.
Everyday tasks, such as cooking, cleaning, gardening and making Altar breads to sell to sustain the monastery; are interspersed with beautiful times of Silence: in prayer, in comtemplation.
Michael Whyte conducts several interviews with members of the community, where he touches on subjects such as the misconceptions held by the layperson about the monastic life, do the carmelites fear death, do they struggle with their faith and how, and such tricky subjects as St John of the Cross's Dark Night. The Sisters make all of these topics so accessible, and so real - you feel like you understand their life despite only having a snapshot of it in this film.
This film was made extra special for me because I have visited this particular Carmel twice now, and have a personal connection with the Sister who was prioress at the time of filming.

This Sisters demonstrate the joy and hardships of the continual gift of their whole self they make to God on a daily basis. They are making themselves "Love in the heart of the Church" (Therese of Lisieux) and make their prayer into "An uplifting of the heart to God" (ibid).

Highlights for me were:
*The bonus material - check it out - over 85mins of interviews and "silly bits".
*Holy Week - I've never seen anything so beautiful as watching the Prioress lovingly wash, dry, bless and kiss the feet of all of her spiritual children. [For the time she is prioress she sort of "stands in the place" of Christ as a priest does in a parish or an Abbot in a monastery]
*6 nuns doing a ceilidh: Fairly amusing, and good fun - it shows that recreation really is about recreation!
*Clothing in the habit for one sister, followed by the death of an elderly member of the community - life cycles round.

This film is recommended for anyone who has seen Into Great Silence or Baraka, ie you can happily sit through a slow paced film with lots of atmosphere.
This film is not recommended for those who can't sit still for that long or find slow-paced films a hardship: it will be a bit lost on you I'm afraid!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 1 November 2011
I was very moved to watch this video and to share in a glimpse of the lives of these Carmelite nuns. They showed thamselves as being very human, struggling with their own doubts, yet living in hope of another dimension in life. who is God? I feel that these women find the Holy in their daily lives, even through their labourious, repetitive tasks. I was particulary touched to hear that they appreciate so much that others find their prayer presence valuable. Maybe I hadn't expected the mutuality of life inside and outside the convent walls. I hadn't expected to see a nun in a wheelchair and then her death but all of this seemed to be taken as normal. It is a prompt to me to see that all that goes on, whether in religious life or not, is quite normal. This DVD made me think more deeply.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 3 December 2010
This is as good a documentary as the Carthusian one, "Into Great Silence", only in this case the setting is far from beautiful - and only truly revealed in the final minutes when, in an inspired passage of film making, the camera zooms away from the Carmelite monastery to its grimy inner city surroundings.

Stand-outs are many. And the Nuns come across as likeable, thoughtful, and deeply committed to what they are about. What a beautiful sight it is to see them at work and prayer. And another interesting thing: you never actually see the altar to which they are directing their prayer. The ceilidh is a delightful surprise, tho.

Well done, what a great idea and it is executed with grace and sweetness.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 1 October 2011
For anyone who enjoyed 'Into Great Silence' this brings the story home to Notting Hill. It perhaps lacks the incredible contemplative beauty with which the French film somehow magically envelops you, but as it also includes some interview material, if you are interested in learning why people should choose to live such a strict and secluded life in the middle of modern London you will get some real straightforward feedback.

Of course London does not have the magical beauty of the Grande Chartreuse and perhaps the lingering camera shots that try to mimic Philip Groning's film don't quite pull that off. In a sense though this is also a strength; Groning's film may be faulted for (unwittingly) exaggerating the sense of beauty at the expense of the very ordinary details of a very simple life. This film redresses the balance so it is really worth having both.

Loved it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 10 May 2011
The Carmelite Sisters whose life is portrayed in this DVD had realised that not many, even in their immediate vicinity of Notting Hill, knew what their life was about. This DVD does a lot to explain. WE are offered insights into the daily round of prayer and work, and best of all some wonderful interviews by women who have led this life for many years (decades even!). These are full of compassion, common sense and deep spirituality.
In a fractured world, the place of religious life was very well shown by these women. I found myself feeling happy that such places of prayer and empathy exist.
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