Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

France 2010
Directed by
Xavier Beauvois
122 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4.5 stars

Of Gods And Men

Synopsis: In 1996 in Algeria, a group of Trappist monks were taken hostage by Islamic terrorists. We look at the lead-up to these events and at the lives of selfless devotion led by these men of God.

The last film I saw about monks was Into Great Silence (2005). I found that 3-hour documentary a challenging, gruelling experience. In comparison, Of Gods And Men, albeit about much more dramatic events, is totally absorbing, if both inspiring and troubling, for its entire two hours. No surprise that it was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, and won the Ecumenical Jury Prize along with many other film festival awards.

Director Xavier Beauvois takes great pains to set up a portrait of the lives that these men lead. Stationed somewhere in the Atlas Mountains of Algeria, the monks’ earthly mission is to be a support for the neighbouring villagers. The opening scene has the avuncular old monk and doctor, Luc (Michael Lonsdale), tending to locals. Each day villagers queue patiently, waiting for Luc’s ministrations, and in some days he sees maybe 100 patients. In loving detail we also see the monks farming activities, as they tend to their animals, grow crops and make honey for sale at the local market. They are so much a part of the local community, held dearly in the villagers’ affections, that they are invited to be part of village festivities, which are of course also Islamic. The intermingling of the differing religions is no issue to either the locals or the monks. Complementing the monks’ practical daily lives are their spiritual duties and activities. These range from quiet contemplation, to modest meals together, at which readings are heard, and of course much singing and chanting of beautiful prayers.

Harsh reality intrudes upon this simple life in the form of Islamic fundamentalism. First the monks hear rumour of a young woman being killed for failing to wear a veil, then a group of Croatian immigrant workers is murdered. The militants come to the monastery demanding medicine, but the monks stand their ground, saying the supplies are for the locals, not for warring factions. Local government authorities offer the monks army protection but the leader, Brother Christian (Lambert Wilson) refuses.

Thereafter much of the film follows the deteriorating political conditions and the soul-searching debates about whether the monks should go or stay. The director doesn’t really indicate what we should feel; some viewers may see the monks’ stubborn refusal to leave as foolish, even arrogant, others would see it as selfless and heroic. In many ways how one views it is irrelevant. For me the defining thing about this film is a look at “pure” Christianity, in a way that does not attempt to convert the viewer, but simply to show what it means to love totally, and to give of oneself to a life of service, regardless of who one is giving to.

Although the film focuses more upon Luc and Christian, we feel we get to know these humble monks as people, each with their distinct personalities. There are some achingly beautiful moments of unutterable tenderness, such as when Christian tends to the overtired Luc, who has fallen asleep while reading. One scene towards the end, when the monks share a meal while listening to the music of Swan Lake. is a piece de resistance of transcendental film-making. The film’s final scene is hauntingly handled whilst the end titles before the film’s credits simply confirm the lunacy that is the essence of all religious fanaticism.

There is much to discuss about this story – the meaning of faith and sacrifice, the possibility of interfaith brotherhood and more – and yet the overriding lasting impression is one of all-embracing serenity and compassion – a rare commodity in this troubled world.

 

 

back

Want more about this film?

search youtube  search wikipedia  

Want something different?

random vintage best worst