Named after the ascetic community purported to have scribed the Dead Sea Scrolls, Essene finds Wiseman immersed in a Benedictine monastery in rural Michigan, whose members struggle to reconcile their individual idiosyncrasies with the community’s collective needs. He films the brethren in prayer, at study, holding mass, and maintaining the grounds, granted access even to private counseling sessions. In a departure from earlier works, he returns to a few subjects, allowing them to become characters in their own right, including one monk on the brink of a nervous breakdown. Wiseman’s presence is all but invisible here, including one virtuosic 360-degree handheld shot around the abbot in the middle of a mass service.

Dir. Frederick Wiseman, 1972, 16mm, 86 min.

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