Chosen (Custody Of The Eyes)


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Chosen (Custody Of The Eyes)
"A beautiful piece of slow cinema that really brings the audience close to its subject."

What makes a modern American teenager want to become a nun? It’s a calling that fewer and fewer women seem to receive; the number of nuns in the country has dropped by almost three quarters over the past 50 years, and their average age is now 74. But new recruit Sister Amata, whose journey this film follows, is just 19, and it seems that she has never wanted anything else.

There’s a quietness about Sister Amata that seems to make her well suited to a contemplative life, but she still has plenty to say for herself. Director Abbie Reese has unprecedented access to the Poor Clare monastery where the young woman is training for her new role; as she learns about the nuns, they learn about her, gradually taking on roles as crew members and learning more about the filmmaking process. There’s an openness and amiability about them that will surprise many viewers, especially in a wonderfully silly final scene; it speaks to their confidence about who and what they are. Though they choose to live apart from the world, old notions that this is due to some fragility or fearfulness are nipped in the bud.

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For Sister Amata, the idea of becoming a bride of Christ is a tangible thing and a great honour, a means of becoming closer to the great source of love in her life. To do this, she must give up her earthly family, whose members we see only fleetingly. Though they are supportive of her choice, it’s clear that this isn’t easy. Training is not only about studying scripture and learning the procedures of the monastery – it’s also about making that adjustment. She’s ambitious, passionate about the new life that awaits, but nonetheless aware of what she’s losing – arguably like most young people just setting out to build adult lives on their own terms.

Slightly bashful yet very frank about all her conflicting emotions, Sister Amata is a delightful person with whom to spend two hours. The film is beautifully edited so that it lulls the viewer into the rhythms of monastery life, setting a gentle pace. Large sections of the film have no dialogue, being accompanied by choral music which the nuns created specially for the purpose, or simply with the hushed ambient sounds of the monastery. There are also passages of dialogue presented as text on a screen, where Sister Amata spends time in religious internet chat rooms and on blogs, asking for advice or informing people of her progress. The intersection of modern technology and behaviours with this Medieval way of life is fascinating.

A beautiful piece of slow cinema that really brings the audience close to its subject, Chosen (Custody Of The Eyes) presents the religious life as a true vocation in the best sense of the word. Whether or not you share Sister Amata’s beliefs, you will find it a privilege to be admitted to a rare space in cinema where the pursuit of a virtuous life is celebrated.

Reviewed on: 22 Feb 2018
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A former blogger and painter confronting what she believes is her calling: becoming a cloistered contemplative nun in a strict religious orders.

Director: Abbie Reese

Year: 2017

Runtime: 106 minutes

Country: US


Glasgow 2018

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