It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
The makers of both fiction and nonfiction films often describe their narratives as journeys in which a character’s outward movements also signify an inner voyage. That’s especially true of “Monk With a Camera,” an engrossing documentary about a privileged young American who leaves fashion photography to become a Buddhist monk in India, then returns to photography to provide some crucial help to his monastery.
The film’s directors, Guido Santi and Tina Mascara, previously made “Chris and Don: A Love Story,” a moving, beautifully wrought account of the long romantic relationship between the author Christopher Isherwood and the artist Don Bachardy. Equally well-made, their latest might also be described as a love story, but here the relationship isn’t between two people but between a man and the religion he has chosen to embrace. Photography is also important to the story, but not as important as faith.
The film’s subject, Nicholas Vreeland, grew up in the most fortunate and cosmopolitan of circumstances. Born in Switzerland to globe-trotting parents, he also lived in Germany and Morocco before moving to the U.S. at age 15 and attending prep school at Groton. He knew he wanted to be a photographer from early on, and his grandmother, the legendary Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, was able to arrange for him to learn his craft under camera masters Irving Penn and Richard Avedon.
The photos we see of the young Nicky in the 1960s show an elegantly handsome young man with flowing locks, always attired in the most fashionable and impeccably turned-out clothes. He was at this point, according to his half-brother, the writer Ptolemy Tompkins, “a very committed dandy.”