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Of Gods and Men - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Of Gods and Men
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B

Of Gods and Men is the type of movie that demands that it take its time, given that it's about a group of French monks living in an impoverished Algerian community, leading fundamentally simple and quiet lives. What makes it appropriate for the movie treatment is the choice they must face: Islamic militants are terrorizing the country and creeping ever closer to the monastery. Should they stay and face their fate, or run back to France?

Writer-director Xavier Beauvois wisely leads up to this choice by introducing us to these eight men by way of their place in this community. This is a very rare representation of Muslims and Christians living together in comfortable harmony -- something that no doubt occurs far more often than we see depicted on screen.

Among the monks is an elderly doctor, who sees and treats the poor people of the village daily for free. The villagers are exceedingly grateful for this and accept them as family friends, even inviting them to their own religious celebrations. And with the exception of selling jarred goods at a local market, the men otherwise keep to themselves, tending their own garden with which they use to feed themselves. They spend their days cleaning and praying, occasionally gathering to sing in beautiful chants.

It's only when some Croatians are slain in the street nearby that they become aware of a genuine threat. Eventually the militants threaten the monks at gunpoint; they demand treatment for the wounded; and the French government orders the monks to return. After some careful deliberation amongst themselves, the monks are resolute in their refusal to leave. The locals urge them to stay, and the monks have unwavering faith in the notion that they are called by God to be there, doing what they do.

These are people who study both the Bible (for their own faith) and the Koran (for their community). They have obtained a cross-cultural understanding that on one hand allows them to bridge a divide, but also places them in the middle of sworn enemies. There's a telling scene in which a local army official takes the leader of the monks, a comparatively young man with very human doubts but a natural leadership ability, to identify the body of one of the terrorists. The monk makes the sign of the cross and prays for the man, which leaves the army official incensed. But this is not an act of defiance on the monk's part; he is simply doing what comes naturally to him. He believes sincerely that all men are worthy of prayer, no matter who they are or what atrocities they have committed.

Neither the local army nor the militants seem to believe this. The villagers -- perhaps they do. They are depicted as simple people who live their lives without judgment of otherness. But to those with authority or those who wish to take it, the monks are ultimately seen as not being on anybody's side.

These are nearly all elderly men, a few of them quite old, but they all display a very human, and natural, fear of what increasingly appears to be a dismal fate. They may all move from fear to resignation -- with no small amount of defiance in between -- but each of them comes to a decision in his own way, but with pious dignity common amongst them.

This is indeed a sad tale (which is based on a true story), and one might be compelled to argue these men were reckless in their foolishness. But they also command a certain respect, for sticking to their commitments to the very end -- both to God and to the people of the village.

Passive resistance gets new meaning in Of 'Gods and Men'.

Overall: B+
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