Film: Of Gods and Men
Cast includes: Lambert Wilson (Sahara), Michael Lonsdale (Munich)
Writer/Director: Xavier Beauvois (Le petit lieutenant)
Genre: Historic Based Drama (2010) French with subtitles
In brief: Life in this Atlas Mountain monastery hasn’t change much since the mid 19th century… the prayer rituals, the duties, the meditation… it’s a quiet life. One thing that affects life in this monastery is that Algeria is a Muslim country. That’s why Prior Christian studies the Koran along side the Bible. Brother Luc runs the little clinic and is as likely to dispense used shoes as antibiotics. Every morning when the gates open, there’s a line of both Christians and Muslims waiting with hopes that Brother Luc has the right medicine for them. When Christians and Muslims pray together, they ask for the same kinds of things. “Lord, do not burden us beyond what we can bear.”
We get the first hint that there may be trouble when a villager reports the killing of a girl for not wearing a hijab. But the slaughter of a group of highway workers is even more troubling news. Protection is offered, but Prior Christian says it’s not possible. When some of the monks disagree, Prior Christian points out, “Protection from a corrupt government won’t serve any purpose.” Is it “collective suicide” to stay while a civil war heats up? When rebels are injured, they too come to the clinic. But they don’t stand in line with the rest. They force their way in with guns and think they can make demands. They don’t realize how poor this monastery really is. Prior Christian quotes from the Koran saying, “We cannot give you what we don’t have.” The rebels obviously have respect for this thoughtful man of God. But respect is fleeting; civil war isn’t.
If you like your movies to move along at a good clip, this one won’t be for you. While some would say it’s slow, I felt it did exactly what it intended to do. It put us into monastery life and let us live the events as they unfold. At the center of the film is the decision the monks need to make about whether or not to stay. Although it’s based on actual events in Algeria 1995, the film doesn’t attempt to educate us on the conflict raging outside the monastery. The film’s viewpoint shows us what the monks would have known and not much beyond. Of Gods and Men is beautifully filmed and richly detailed. This is a ruggedly beautiful part of the world where people live off the land, but not without hardships. As one monk points out, “A good shepherd doesn’t abandon his flock.” As shepherds, the monks know very well what’s at stake.
3 popped kernels
Exquisitely beautiful journey into monastic life in dangerous times
Primary Audience: Grown-ups
Gender Appeal: Any audience
Distribution: Art house
Tempo: In no hurry
Visual Style: Nicely varnished realism
Character Development: Engaging
Social Significance: Thought provoking