Form and subject find a nearly perfect match in Chosen: Custody of the Eyes, a humble documentary that consists largely of footage captured by a young woman during her early days as a cloistered, contemplative nun. Indeed, Sister Amata (as she’s known in the Illinois monastery where she lives) is credited as the movie’s cinematographer.
The resulting footage largely consists of first-person POV shots of Sister Amata performing her many chores, as well as confessional close-ups of her reflecting on her new life. There is a ragged, DIY quality to the imagery, but also a meditative element that is in line with the spirituality being practiced. Whether extended, back-and-forth tracking shots of a push broom at work or an entire breakfast observed from a single fixed point on a table qualify as “transcendental style,” to quote Paul Schrader, will probably depend on the patience of the individual viewer. Undoubtedly, Sister Amata (and by extension director-editor-producer Abbie Reese) find fortuitous moments amidst all the slow cinema. At one point, while describing the gestures the nuns use to communicate during silent prayer, Sister Amata sets the camera down without immediately realizing that the angle has cut off her head in favor of her hands—exactly what we need to see in that instant.
Slow cinema or not, Chosen could probably stand to be a bit more selective; a meta section near the end, in which Reese appears on camera to discuss the filmmaking process with one of Sister Amata’s supervisors, somewhat breaks the spell. Yet holding it all together is the presence of Sister Amata herself, who comes across as untested but self-aware, earnest but not naive. Her description of the nuns’ life in the monastery—as rough rocks who have been thrown together, and smoothed out, in a tumbler—is a beautiful metaphor, and apt. Chosen doesn’t demand that she fully explain that process, or even justify it. Through the eye of Sister Amata’s camera, it simply observes.