BASED loosely on the life of the Cistercian monks of Tibhirine in Algeria from 1993 until their kidnapping in 1996, Of Gods and Men follows the lives of eight French Christian monks and the challenges they face when threats of Islamic terrorists come against them. Joyce Ho reports.
BASED loosely on the life of the Cistercian monks of Tibhirine in Algeria from 1993 until their kidnapping in 1996, Of Gods and Men follows the lives of eight French Christian monks and the challenges they face when threats of Islamic terrorists come against them.
You catch a glimpse of monastic life in the mountains of North Africa in the 1990s. The monks live in harmony with their Muslim brothers – they sell homemade honey to the villagers, partake in local celebrations and serve the community through healthcare.
In an early scene, you even witness the leader of the group, Brother Christian (played by Lambert Wilson) reading the Koran in order to understand the villagers better.
But the peace is shattered when a crew of foreign workers are massacred by an Islamic fundamentalist group and fear sweeps though the region. The army offers them protection, but the monks refuse. Should they return to France? As the situation escalates, they realise they have no choice but to stay, come what may.
Director Xavier Beauvois’ deliberate decision to maintain the film’s realistic framework captures the internal struggles and fears each of the eight French monks face, juxtaposed against their daily life of devotion to prayer and community life.
Cracks in one’s personal thoughts and anxieties emerge as the monks wrestle with the adversity at hand, enabling viewers to identity with the characters on screen as mortal men with the same amount of human struggle and desires as anyone else.
He seems intentional about minimising the religious sensitivity latent in the story, and is eager to emphasise the benevolence of Islam. There are no attempts to preach or covert. Instead, he focuses on the shared bond between the community and the monastery, fostered over the years and across different generations.
Of God and Men is one of those movies that demand your fullest attention for you to “get it”. It is neither an action-packed thriller, nor one you can completely “veg out to” That said, the film does possess a very captivating message of how one always has the freedom to choose regardless of the circumstance.
The film was awarded the Grand Prix during its debut at the Cannes Film Festival last year. It also won both the Lumière Award and César Award for Best Film.
Of Gods and Men opens in cinemas May 26.