Saturday, April 30, 2011

Of Gods and Men (Rhoades)

“Of Gods and Men” –
A Commitment to Faith

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

In 1996 seven Christian monks in Algeria were kidnapped and beheaded by Islamic extremists. That horrific true-life event was the catalyst for this French film by Xavier Beauvois.
However, “Of Gods and Men” is not really about these murders. It asks a more important question: Why did these monks decide to sacrifice themselves for their faith?
“Of Gods and Men” is currently exploring these moral issues at the Tropic Cinema.
In the village of Tibhirine the monks and Muslims had been living in harmony. But the Groupe Islamique Armé loomed nearby. The Algerian government had asked the monks to leave for their own safety but they insisted on staying despite the dangers of this ongoing Civil War.
Monastic life is simple, devout. We watch as the monks prepare and sell honey at the market. As they listen to the strains of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Enjoy a glass of red wine. Place a kiss on a mural of Christ. Prepare a Last Supper when they agree not to abandon their monastery.
That the camera is allowed to observe them in such close, intimate detail is almost surprising – until you remember this is not a documentary but a drama with actors.
Lambert Wilson (who plays Dom. Christian, the scholarly leader of the group, a man secure in his own faith) and Michael Lonsdale (who plays the older, more worldly Luc) give outstanding performances.
To prepare for their roles the actors lived as monks at the Tamié Abbey in the French Alps. They trained in singing Gregorian chants. And as the film came together they began to capture the sense of fraternity that permeates a monastery where the brothers share a sense of faith.
Filming took place in Morocco at a Benedictine monastery that had stood unused for more than 40 years.
The results were good. At the 2010 Cannes Film Festival “Of Gods and Men” received both the Grand Prix and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury.
Beauvois’ film doesn’t preach. And it doesn’t attempt to answer all the questions, being content to accept the ambiguity of faith.
How far will a group of devout men go to follow their beliefs? Pretty far, we discover. Even death.
“Of Gods and Men” ends with a letter from one of the monks. He wrote in part: “Should it ever befall me, and it could happen today, to be a victim of the terrorism swallowing up all foreigners here, I would like my community, my church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country.”
Xavier Beauvois makes sure you remember.
[from Solares Hill]

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