Of Gods and Men (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo)
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Loosely based on the life of the Cistercian monks of Tibhirine in Algeria, from 1993 until their kidnapping in 1996, Of Gods and Men tells a story of eight French Christian monks who live in harmony with their Muslim brothers. When a crew of foreign workers is massacred by an Islamic fundamentalist group, fear sweeps through the region. The army offers them protection, but the monks refuse. Should they leave? Despite the growing menace in their midst, they slowly realize that they have no choice but to stay... come what may.
The monks at the Trappist monastery in Algeria seem almost to exist outside of time, so it may be a while before we recognize the 1990s as the setting for Of Gods and Men. And old traditions cannot escape new warfare in this stirring movie, based on a true story that happened at a remote enclave of peaceful, studious priests. These Christian monks minister to the largely Muslim (and very poor) villagers in their vicinity, a balance that is threatened by Algeria's Civil War. When nearby radical-Islamist insurgents begin killing foreigners, the monks must face a choice. Will they flee to safety--a perfectly rational and understandable decision that will leave the villagers without their only source of health care--or will they stay on, secure in their spiritual calling despite the possibility of abduction or murder? Director Xavier Beauvois makes an absorbing film from this question, and it's not at all difficult to understand why it became an unexpected box-office smash in France (and ended up winning the Cesar award for best film of 2010). The film is beautifully cast, and sometimes Beauvois simply trains his camera on the lined, weathered faces of his priests, as though allowing those lines to tell the story. Heading the cast is Lambert Wilson (of Matrix fame), who leads his men with an almost regal bearing, and veteran actor Michael Lonsdale, who quietly inhabits the role of the physician in the group. The film takes time out for quiet contemplation, as though understanding that the priests' suspenseful situation is only half the story. The wordless climax, which allows the men to be animated by the earthly pleasures of wine and Tchaikovsky, is something of a spiritual journey of acceptance all on its own. It's a moment you'll find very difficult to forget. --Robert Horton
Merrimack College Augustine Dialogue IX with Author John W. Kiser
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Top Customer Reviews
Xavier Beauvois both wrote (with some assistance from scenarist Etienne Comar) and directed this film that is as much a work of art as it is a deeply moving story. The film was first released in France as 'Des hommes et des dieux' to high acclaim: hopefully it will have the same impact here in this country. Based on a true story, the time is in the 1990s, the place Algeria during their Civil War. A Trappist Monastery is the home of eight devout elderly monks, each performing the duties to allow them to exist off the land and serve the poverty stricken Algerian village near by. The head of the monastery is Christian (an elegant and tender Lambert Wilson), the old physician Luc (Michael Lonsdale) serves the physical needs of the impoverished Muslim villagers, and the rest of the monks tend the gardens for food, and study, and rise each morning to begin a day of prayers and masses. These gentle, wise old men are Christophe (Olivier Rabourin), Célestin (Philippe Laudenbach), Amédée (Jacques Herlin), Jean-Pierre (Loïc Pichon), Michel (Xavier Maly), and Paul (Jean-Marie Frin). A group of terrorists crash the monastery in an attempt to get medicine and food and challenge the 'heretic' monks (the terrorists are Islamics), but the strength of the monks and the quiet faith of Christian manages to head them off. As the radical Islamic terrorists begin killing foreigners the monks must make a decision to flee to safety or remain at their posts as nourishers of the little village they tend. The human side of the monks shows in the fear of survival , but the strength of their faith and their commitment to their people makes the decision to stay unanimous. The fact that the terrorists are Islamic is not seen as a difference in their humanity. History has already provided the ending, but the manner in which the monks are driven away from their monastery is not only desperately moving but also uplifting in the manner in which these devoted men face their fate.
Every actor in this film is an experienced French actor and their performances defy description except to say that to the man they are brilliant. Lambert Wilson and Michael Lonsdale are particularly eloquent. The film is in French but with little spoken dialogue: much of the film is the camera (by cinematographer Caroline Champetier) pausing on the monks at prayer, singing masses, or simply close-up face shots of these well-worn faces. Almost every frame of this film could be a Renaissance painting. The music for the film is limited to the chanting and singing of masses (breathtakingly beautiful) except for a small but poignant Christmas celebration when the monks share a glass of wine from Luc and listen to an old tape of Tchaikovsky's 'Swan Lake'. The simplicity of the lives of these Trappist monks, their spiritual faith, and their bonding to the villagers they serve and to each other is powerful. Understatement rules, especially the indescribably beautiful final scenes as the story disappears into the snowy fog. Few films will move the viewer as deeply as this miracle of a film. Grady Harp, April 11
As the real world intrudes on their quiet labor, they must confront some essential questions that could affect their prospects of survival. Should they accept an armed guard from a government with little legitimacy? Should they leave? Should they attempt to build a respectful relationship with the fundamentalist rebels who menacingly visit them? Can they abandon their mission? Their struggle with these questions forms the basis of the film's plot. While slow if you are used to hollywood action, it is completely believable, with every scene pregnant with psychological nuance and internal turmoil.
With subtle elegance, the climax of the film occurs when the monks come to their decision over a meal, together listening to music on a crude cassette player and weeping at their intimacy and commitment to the community. Even though I am not a believer, it brought tears to my eyes to witness the holiness and devotion of these men as they labored in obscurity and accepted their fate.
I saw this in Paris, where it was much discussed as an "event film". The Parisians took this as art that made an important statement and deserved to be viewed seriously and debated. This is an interesting contrast to the film experience elsewhere, whether you think it pretentious or not.
It would be all too easy to let the divide that exists in this situation and the choice that is faced by the monks to remain simplistic - should they stay or should they go? Even though there are some reservations expressed, there is never any doubt that the monks will come to the logical Christian conclusion and stay. What is rather more impressive however is how the director refuses to allow this decision to be seen, as it would in a more conventional film, as simply an act of heroism or bravery. The situation is not exploited shamelessly for heavy-handed sentimentality as it would be in a Hollywood production, but rather it goes deeper into the qualities that lie behind courage and potential martyrdom. What the monks have to grapple with are their own doubts, their own flaws, their own fears - their very humanity. It is not weak to confront these fears, but the true measure of the men is in how they come to terms with their human weaknesses without denying them.
Beauvois manages to draw the essential truth and beauty out of the film, and at the same time protect it from the intrusive elements that could indeed diminish its force, simply showing the closeness of their brotherhood, their willingness to understand and forgive, and their ability to reflect deeply not so much on the decision that must be taken whether to stay or to leave, but on a deep search into themselves for the heartfelt truth. These kind of reflections and questions are not so easy to put up on the screen without troublesome exposition, but Beauvois manages to show simply and effectively how the monks find this truth in their daily routines and in the simplicity of their lifestyle. It all comes down to life and the love of life itself, and the simple pleasures that can be gained from it.
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