Recent Historical Films

 

 

Of Gods and Men (X. Beauvois, 2010)
 

 

 

 

 
 

 

Directed by Xavier Beauvois; written by Étienne Comar and Mr. Beauvois; director of photography, Caroline Champetier; edited by Marie-Julie Bonnier; production design by Michel Barthelemy; costumes by Marielle Robaut; produced by Frantz Richard; released by Sony Pictures Classics. In French and Arabic, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours.

WITH: Lambert Wilson (Christian), Michael Lonsdale (Luc), Olivier Rabourdin (Christophe), Philippe Laudenbach (Célestin), Jacques Herlin (Amédée) and Loïc Pichon (Jean-Pierre).

 

Original Title: Des hommes et des dieux.

 

Cannes Film Festival: Jury Prize

3 Cesar Awards: Best Picture, Supporting Actor, Cinematography.

 

 

Synopsis

Eight French Christian monks live in harmony with their Muslim brothers in a monastery perched in the mountains of North Africa in the 1990s. When a crew of foreign workers is massacred by an Islamic fundamentalist group, fear sweeps though 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. This film is loosely based on the life of the Cistercian monks of Tibhirine in Algeria, from 1993 until their kidnapping in 1996.

 

From the Director

"Liberté, égalité, fraternitéis the motto in France, and what we have here are men who are free men. They are free men who see themselves as being equal to each other, but also brothers as religious brothers, but also with the Muslim people. So these are basically humans. Unfortunately, what we now have in France is a situation where people are a little less free and a little less equal and a little less fraternal. And I think that the important message is that this is really a question of intelligence. These are really people who speak with each other, they question each other, they’re interested in each other. [...] I hope that my film will encourage people to talk to each other and perhaps have an atmosphere that is less fearful" (By Xavier Beauvois).

 

Quotes on the Film

"Beautiful, somber and rigorously intelligent." (A.O. Scott, New York Times).

"'Superb, nothing less than sublime." (Joe Morgenstern, The Wall Street Journal).

"The climax is both misty and unforgettable: a sacrifice that looks like a ghost story." (Anthony Lane, New Yorker).

"'Austere yet provocative, this is not only a film about faith, it also has faith that the power generated by complex moral decisions can be as unstoppable as any runaway locomotive." (Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times).

"Superb! This may stir viewers to an awe that transcends skeptical opinions about religion or politics" (Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly).

 

Press Clippings

 

By Mick Lasalle

Part of the film's success comes from the fact that the notion of staying, despite the threats, begins to make logical sense even to a relatively secular movie audience full of people thinking, "Get out of there!" for two hours straight.

The film is long - longer than would have been optimal, as it is, inevitably, slow moving. But there is much to savor in Beauvois' meticulous work. Notice, for example, how, in his crowd scenes, not only does everyone have something to do but each person also has a compelling state of mind. Everyone is thinking. Notice the positioning of bodies within the frame, suggestive of classic painting. Notice the compositions, the backgrounds, the shrewd placement of each shot. Notice, also, how scenes end abruptly, but at precisely the moment their mood or information is conveyed. This is a beautiful film, full of gray- and white-haired men who grow in stature before our eyes. The scene in which the men drink wine and listen to "Swan Lake" is one of the year's great set pieces, a moment that will stay with you, perhaps forever.

(San Francisco Chronicle, March 4, 2011)

 

 

By Ty Burr

 

The air that “Of Gods and Men’’ breathes is so clean and so cold that it feels like a fresh beginning. The irony and the ecstasy of this beautifully shot, intensely affecting movie, however, is that the end is rapidly approaching for its characters, French Cistercian-Trappist monks caught up in the Algerian civil war of the 1990s. Xavier Beauvois’s film, a Grand Prix winner at Cannes last year, is a dramatic interpretation of actual events — some known, others guessed at — that could have been a foursquare tale of Christian martyrdom. Instead, it’s something stranger, deeper, and richer: an experience that takes us right up to the edge of human experience and peers into the unknown.

The monks have for years run a monastery-clinic in a mountain village, and the local Muslim villagers have come to rely on and love them. When “Of Gods and Men’’ opens, the area sits on the fault line between the guerrillas’ territory and government influence; a group of Croatian immigrant laborers is brutally murdered by Islamist rebels in one early scene. Both sides consider the brothers an active annoyance. Both sides, in fact, urge them to get the hell out. So why don’t they?

That debate — among the monks, within their souls, in the heads and hearts of the audience — unfolds during the first two-thirds of this exaltingly patient movie. The head of the monastery, Christian (Lambert Wilson, the Merovingian of the “Matrix’’ movies) is an austere man of spirit and intellect who studies the Koran and is fascinated with Islam — he wishes he could see it as God does. He announces to the local government minister that the monks won’t be going anywhere, which prompts a fiery response from some of the other brothers. “I didn’t come here to commit collective suicide,’’ insists the young Brother Christophe (Olivier Rabourdin).

Others are more circumspect. The aging Brother Luc runs the clinic and is the closest to the villagers; played by the great French character actor Michael Lonsdale, he’s the heart of the movie, a shambling old bear who has come too far to turn back. Brother Luc quotes Pascal at one point — “Men never do evil so cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction’’ — and he says it with no specific faith in mind and all of them.

(Boston.com, March 18, 2011).