Essene is about daily life in a Benedictine monastery and the resolution of conflict between personal needs and the institutional and organizational priorities of the community. In the Order, where the focus of life is the relationship of individual work and worship to the community as a whole, the brethren must cope with the same issues that arise in any community: rules, work, worship, values, love, and play.
ESSENE is one of the best religious films ever made… Fred Wiseman’s cinema verite look at life inside a monastery also studies the essential meanings inherent in any institutional framework… It is fluid, extraordinarily honest and non theatrical experience… Wiseman conveys humility without resorting to humble expressions, an awareness of profound piety without mock spirituality… ESSENE raises the question of God urgently and eloquently.
–Malcolm Boyd, The New York Times
Mr. Wiseman has given the viewer a superb human comedy funny, pathetic, touching, absurd, moving.
–John J. O'Connor, The New York Times
Wiseman Retrospective at Film Forum Repertory