Monk With A Camera

This fine, lyrical biodoc from co-directors Tina Mascara and Guido Santi profiles the venerable Nicholas "Nicky" Vreeland. The grandson of legendary ­­Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, Nicky grew up in a world of luxury that most of us are only vaguely aware of, but left it all behind in the early 1980s in order to study as a disciple at the Rato Dratsang Buddhist...read more

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Reviewed by Nathan Southern
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This fine, lyrical biodoc from co-directors Tina Mascara and Guido Santi profiles the venerable Nicholas "Nicky" Vreeland. The grandson of legendary ­­Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, Nicky grew up in a world of luxury that most of us are only vaguely aware of, but left it all behind in the early 1980s in order to study as a disciple at the Rato Dratsang Buddhist monastery in Mundgod, Karnataka, India. Vreeland retained his passion for still photography while there, and began to shoot magisterial black-and-white tableaux of his surroundings.

Although many people (including the subject himself) turn up as on-camera interviewees, the best parts of this mellow portrait are the stylistic and aesthetic pleasures; its measured pace and spare shots, combined with the deliberate pace of Buddhist life, echo the writings of Carlo Levi (especially his memoir Christ Stopped at Eboli). In the glimpses of Rato Dratsang and Vreeland’s quiet, humble manner, we begin to get a sense of the innate superiority of this world over the ghastliness of commercialist life in the West. And without ever spelling it out for us, Mascara and Santi help us grasp how Vreeland's style of photography is an outgrowth of his lifestyle, a spiritual calling in some ways unprecedented for an individual from his particular background. While a late sequence in which the Dalai Lama promotes Vreeland to abbot of Rato Dratsang feels too long and drawn out (it needed additional elaboration in order to maintain momentum and interest), and appearances by Hollywood actor Richard Gere seem fatuous, this is still an accomplished work -- one that’s well-gauged and engrossing for much of its running time.

This fine, lyrical biodoc from co-directors Tina Mascara and Guido Santi profiles the venerable Nicholas "Nicky" Vreeland. The grandson of legendary ­­Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, Nicky grew up in a world of luxury that most of us are only vaguely aware of, but left it all behind in the early 1980s in order to study as a disciple at the Rato Dratsang Buddhist monastery in Mundgod, Karnataka, India. Vreeland retained his passion for still photography while there, and began to shoot magisterial black-and-white tableaux of his surroundings.

Although many people (including the subject himself) turn up as on-camera interviewees, the best parts of this mellow portrait are the stylistic and aesthetic pleasures; its measured pace and spare shots, combined with the deliberate pace of Buddhist life, echo the writings of Carlo Levi (especially his memoir Christ Stopped at Eboli). In the glimpses of Rato Dratsang and Vreeland’s quiet, humble manner, we begin to get a sense of the innate superiority of this world over the ghastliness of commercialist life in the West. And without ever spelling it out for us, Mascara and Santi help us grasp how Vreeland's style of photography is an outgrowth of his lifestyle, a spiritual calling in some ways unprecedented for an individual from his particular background. While a late sequence in which the Dalai Lama promotes Vreeland to abbot of Rato Dratsang feels too long and drawn out (it needed additional elaboration in order to maintain momentum and interest), and appearances by Hollywood actor Richard Gere seem fatuous, this is still an accomplished work -- one that’s well-gauged and engrossing for much of its running time.

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  • Released: 2014
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: This fine, lyrical biodoc from co-directors Tina Mascara and Guido Santi profiles the venerable Nicholas "Nicky" Vreeland. The grandson of legendary ­­Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, Nicky grew up in a world of luxury that most of us are only vaguely aware of… (more)

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