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Somewhere in Leicestershire, Mount St Bernard Abbey can be found. Inhabiting the Abbey is a collective of Trappist monks, existing only to serve God in their self contained community. Nick Hamer has been allowed to deep dive into the colony’s habitat, witnessing first hand how exactly monks exist and survive. Hamer cultivates talking heads and atmospheric shots that provide an audience with a front row seat into life at the monastery.

The monks live free from prejudice, uncaring of race or origin and welcome all that desire a life of spiritual purpose (not women though). As long as you devote yourself to God, pray and help those who need it, you’re in. I myself am an agnostic in all matters of religion and often I can be quick to dismiss any notion of a higher power. However I would be lying if I didn’t see the appeal of a living like a monk. It provides shelter, sustenance, knowledge, peace and an escape from the stress that modern living generates. To gain all of this simply devote yourself to God, swear away the opposite sex and robe up.

It’s not all prayer and celibacy at the abbey though, there is much to be done in maintaining the standard of living. Something I had certainly never considered is how monks got things done. Or fixed and repaired. Or built. Seems a touch strange to think of a man of god calling up a plumber doesn’t it? Especially when they thrive in such a secluded and self contained community. So what do they do? They read a book about plumbing and fix the toilet. This, alongside devotion to god, embodies their mission. Constant betterment and a life of dedicated learning. The religion spread to Cameroon to the point where the monks needed to build a place of worship there. Call an architect? Absolutely not. One of the monks had been the in house labourer for years, studied countless books and articles on the subject and ended up, through God’s will, being a fucking architect! He spent years in Cameroon, building and teaching. What a top bloke.

I’m not overly proficient with how religious groups obtain funds but at one point there was a fully operational farm at Mount St Bernard Abbey, manned by the monks of course. Any profits that were made by flogging the farm’s produce went straight back into the abbey. One of the main focus points of this documentary is how the now obsolete farm is replaced by a brand new brewery in the hopes that this can replicate a steady cash flow. It will also become the first Trappist brewery in the UK. As the brewery is constructed, once again the monks devote themselves in becoming knowledgeable and adept at working in a brewery. I can say first hand that brewery life is difficult, precise and intensely technical and I can think of few better to attempt it off the cuff than monks.

At no point is there a sense of despair or sadness amongst the men in the abbey. Their numbers are dwindling. Less and less are interested in God or any sort of religion as the world is so incredibly convenient today. If you wait and want for very little, what need is there to throw your life into a monastery? The majority of the monks are over 80 years old and have buried past members. It’s an oddly poetic notion to be surrounded by all of your deceased friends all the time. Given the struggles of today’s lack of faith and constantly being reminded of those you have lost, still the monks do not give up hope or question their love of God. 

The core subject might not be to everyone’s taste and it’s presented at a snail’s pace. I admit that I might have shut my eyes for a little longer than I should have on my first watch. However, Nick Hamer emulates the serenity of a monk’s presumed existence within this insightful documentary. It combines music composed in a studio and from the abbey’s choir, giving the piece a sense of authenticity. Outside the City gives first hand accounts from various monks and their thoughts around what their purpose is, which is both fascinating and bizarre. The monks offer their unwavering love and commitment to God, accepting that the world is not perfect and that is God’s will. But if the monks weren’t there, would the world be a different place?

Dir: Nick Hamer

Cast: The Monks of Mount St Bernard Abbey

Prd: Nick Hamer

DOP: Nick Hamer, Kiran Raval

Music: Dave Hendra, Eikon

Country: UK

Year: 2020

Run time: 82 mins

Outside the City is available on DVD and Download now.