Starring: Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Rabourdin
Directed by: Xavier Beauvois (“Le petit lieutenant”)
Written by: Xavier Beauvois (“Le petit lieutenant”)
Man’s faith is tested in the most deeply moving and fascinating ways in the French docudrama “Of God’s and Men” (“Des homes et des dieux”), last year’s Grand Prize winner at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. While the poignant themes are not uncommon, filmmaker Xavier Beauvois’ tactful handling of the emotional intensity – and material that would topple most directors – is pure poetry.
Based on the true 1996 incident where a group of Trappist monks (part of the Roman Catholic order) living in Algeria must decide whether or not to stay in their monastary when an extremist Islamic terrorists threaten their safety, “Of God’s and Men” takes this understated narrative and creates a haunting story of remarkable inspiration that never allows its core spirituality to overshadow the more universal message about the human spirit.
That’s not to say the men at the center of “Of God’s and Men” are not torn between their physical and religious lives. As we spend time with these seven God-fearing men inside the walls of the quiet monetary, we agonize alongside them as the weighty decision presses down on their minds. Some think abandoning their home is like a renouncement of their faith. Some believe staying in the hostile country during a civil war would ultimately lead to their deaths. None are certain what the right answer is. It’s powerful to witness them come to terms with what they decide.
Reminiscent of the late Sidney Lumet’s 1957 drama “12 Angry Men,” in which a split jury must decide the fate of a young man accused of murder, “Of God’s and Men” allows us to take refuge with each of these monks and appreciate the philosophical viewpoint behind their choices. It’s a story of survival confronted at the root of their conviction.
While the lack of dialogue, somber environment and routine, and glacial pacing may be tedious for some (chanting monks don’t have to be boring if you actually see the beauty in the scenes), moviegoers who are looking for genuinely affecting foreign language cinema will not be disappointed in the least. As the world of these sympathetic characters crumbles around them (details Beauvois elects to keep thes scope small, which is a bold move), “Of God’s and Men” focuses on something more than historical context. It actually hits a nerve.