STARRING Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Rabourdin, Philippe Laudenbach DIRECTED BY Xavier Beauvois SCREENPLAY Xavier Beauvois, Etienne Comar MPAA RATING Rated PG-13 RUNNING TIME 120 Mins. DISTRIBUTED BY Sony Classics DVD EXTRAS The Sacrificed Tibehirine: Further Investigation; Merrimack College Augustine Dialogue IX w/Author John W. Kiser
"Of Gods and Men" Review
While Of Gods and Men, nominated for the Best Foreign Film at the Independent Spirit Awards and recipient of the prize from the National Board of Review, is set within an Algerian Catholic monastery, one need not be religious nor even spiritually inclined to fully appreciate its powerfully realized themes that cross political, religious, geographical and communal lines.
Based upon the true story of eight Christian monks who peacefully co-existed with their Muslim brothers in a mountainous Algerian region in the 1990's. When a crew of foreign workers is massacred by terrorists, the region is stricken by fear and the Algerian government encourages our eight monks to leave. They refuse. The military offers protection. Again, they refuse deciding that the military has no place within a monastery. Led by Brother Christian (Lambert Wilson), the eight men commit to staying within their monastery and living out their life's mission of simplicity and service whatever may happen.
The inevitable happens, as anyone familiar with the story knows, and the eight monks are eventually kidnapped by Muslim fundamentalists.
Of Gods and Men is a crushing yet exhilarating story of what it means to have a faith that transcends one's physical reality, a faith that understands God or purpose or love or something, anything greater than self. For these eight men, faith is a life of spiritual and physical commitment that simply cannot be interrupted by even the most harsh realities of global conflict or religious fervor. Living among a largely Muslim community, these men have been accepted and embraced and entrusted by this community for their commitments to this mission and to this small community. An elder Brother, Luc (Michael Lonsdale), serves as the village's doctor and is arguably the film's spiritual center. It is Luc, perhaps, that helps us most realize that there is a difference between Muslim and Muslim terrorist, just as there is a difference between Christian and Christian terrorist.
Co-writer/director Xavier Beauvois beautifully captures life within this monastery, with our eight Brothers being in virtually every scene within the film and the majority of the film's scenes contained within the monastery. There is a meditative spirit contained within Of Gods and Men that captures, calmly and without unnecessary emotional histrionics, what it means to be truly committed to God, to community and to one's transcendent choices. It is possible to argue that, perhaps, these men were blend to their true calling and, perhaps, too legalistic in believing that they must stay within this monastery even when faced with death, but Beauvois isn't so much concerned with whether this was a right or wrong choice as he is concerned with the discipline and belief that allowed these men to stay put recognizing that it would likely cost them their lives.
Lambert Wilson is wonderful as Christian, a man who has been elected as leader but who also leads with humanity and an awareness of the thoughts, feelings and ideas of those around him. MIchael Lonsdale excels as Luc, a man who is not hesitant to stay within the walls of this monastery but who, in his 80's, also recognizes that his has been a life fully lived. Olivier Rabourdin, as Christophe, is a younger monk whose hesitation to stay and wrestling with God is paramount to the film's emotional resonance.
Beauvois beautifully lenses the film, capturing with wide panning shots the fullness of the monastery while illuminating the wonder and simplicity of their daily lives.
As a pastor, I must confess that I live and breathe for films such as this one...films that truly explore the human heart, the capacity for belief and the type of faith that transcends spiritual path or denomination. While it might be tempting to believe that Islam is demonized in the film, Beauvois takes great care to emphasize the difference between the vast majority of peaceful, loving Muslims and those who choose a more fundamentalist path often wrought with hatred and violence.
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at 2010's Cannes along with the 2010 Best Foreign Language Film Award from National Board of Review, Of Gods and Men ultimately, perhaps, examines the fragile yet luminous weaving together of God within the lives of humanity in a way that is at times painful, heartbreaking, inspiring and awesome.