Librarian’s Pick of the Week: Inquiring Nuns

Library patrons are always asking me, “what have you read (sometimes seen) lately that you loved?”  This is what I loved this week.

Inquiring Nuns directed by Gordon Quinn

Why: In the late 1960s, two nuns traveled around Chicago asking people if they were happy, what lead to happiness, and what would make them less happy.  There are several remarkable aspects of this film, including the visual details and the responses of the subjects.

The footage of 1960s Chicago architecture, the street signs, the Art Institute, the fashion, and even the subjects’ manner of speaking seem to become their own characters as each possesses such distinct style and depth.  As the nuns approach the interviewees, they gingerly ask, “are you happy?” and the subjects responses show us an extraordinary glimpse into human nature.  It reminds us that there is no us/them depending on when you were born; personality types transcend, and a penchant for peace is a large part of the human condition (the documentary takes place during the Vietnam War).  There’s always that one person who is perpetually happy, sometimes making you doubt their sanity.  The depressive who attempts to hide their anxiety with humor; the self-involved; those who live in the moment, and those who live in the future.

The best part of this documentary is its subtly–it resists dramatic music, closeups, or editing that could manipulate the viewer into a prescribed emotion.  It’s a straightforward film where the subjects are asked a question and its their answers, their surrounding environment and the climate of the era that packs a restrained punch.

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