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Souls moulded by faith

· Twelve Cloistered Nuns speak about God in their world ·

It goes on for over four hours and then begins all over again .... to infinity—religious nuns dressed in the black and white Benedictine habit respond to questions. The questions themselves have been cut; you can only see the sisters’ testimonies, separated by black frames. The film follows the nuns in their daily work and their walks in the garden. You see them always entering church in lines of two or simply praying alone.

“The Film of Responses” ( Der Film der Antworten from Thomas and Peggy Henke, 2012) has no music in the background, no beautiful images and no sentimentalism; the footage is grainy and the shots of the women’s faces are constantly taken from below. They didn’t even try to film the best shots or the most beautiful backgrounds; rather, you see antiques hung on walls, a study room, a room for the sick, or merely wash-basins.

The film is a masterpiece that doesn’t give in to the usual visual effects of homo mediaticus . Nonetheless, you can’t help but continue to watch it with ever growing amazement. The way in which the nuns respond is nothing less than the entirety of the existence of God.

It’s a film about happiness, joy and pain, relationships and aging. It deals with the question of the Omnipotence of God, doubts, the silence of God, the moment of death, our life here and now, celebration, and prayer. It reflects faith, hope and love in a thousand different ways.

These issues are addressed with serene tranquillity and honesty which could otherwise easily be dealt with disingenuously: “God has never rooted me”, explains a witty older nun with a bounce in her step as she works in the kitchen, while another nun reflects upon the life to which she was called and how she faces “it with daily struggles, suffering, and prayer and truly rejoicing in it with great patience”. Many moments in the film deal with the death of the nuns and the great party that will take place in heaven. From the words of the simplest nuns it is clear that their formation has been rooted in Holy Scripture and the Fathers of the Church, a tradition already existing in medieval monasteries and which were strongholds of feminine culture.

Thomas Henke, a German teacher and artist, spent eight years at the Mariendonk Abbey in the lower Rhine seeking answers to his questions about life and death. He was able to gather 80 hours of material which he then edited, together with his wife Peggy, creating a four hour film. “It took a long time for the nuns to agree to this project”, remembers Henke, “but once they said ‘yes’ they left me completely free; they didn’t want to know the questions beforehand nor see the film.”

Thirty-five Benedictine nuns live at the Mariendonk Abbey, twelve of which “give answers” about the hope inside them. The light shining from the Abbey is seen in these twelve souls who have been molded by Faith. They are a choir of voices, each one very different from the other, far from the blind sheep of today.

“The Film of Responses”, therefore, is not just a film to see but to listen to. If watched intently, it’s clear that it is a film about love. It speaks without fear about the Faith and about Christian thought rooted in Europe despite contrary belief. It reminds us that the Church is artistically a step ahead and that there’s a need to recover neglected treasures.

The film’s first screening was held this year in Zollverein of Essen. The next screenings will be at the Friars Minor of Graz’s cultural center from 12 December 2012 to 2 February 2013.

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