In 1996, a group of eight Trappist monks living in North Africa must make a fateful decision. Confronted by radical Islamic fundamentalists, should they remain (facing probable death) or simply leave? Director Xavier Beavois explores their dilemma in "Of Gods and Men" with such grace and spirituality, it left me feeling greatly humbled.
The Catholic monks live a simple, peaceful life in their Muslim community. Brother Christian (Lambert Wilson), their leader, wholeheartedly believes that they have been called upon by God to help these people. When Algerian government officials urge the monks to leave after a bloody terrorist attack, Christian refuses. The other brothers aren't quite as determined to stay but eventually agree to do so.
The impending doom is ever present. When Brother Luc (Michael Lonsdale) is asked to help a wounded terrorist, Christian turns them away. The fear factor intensifies after the incident, but it also serves to unite the monks in solidarity. They decide that their mission is to be "brothers to all."
Much of "Of Gods and Men" is wordless. Beavois’ camera expertly captures and conveys his characters’ thoughts. In the most captivating scene in the film, the brothers are seated at the dinner table (a "Last Supper" comes to mind) while Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake" plays on a cassette. There is no conversation while the camera pans back and forth on the brothers’ faces. Simultaneously as the music crescendos, their facial expressions fade from smiles to tears. It's as though they are now resolved to accept their fate. And without one word spoken, the audience knows exactly what they're thinking.
"Of Gods and Men" is basically an apolitical film. Moreover, it addresses the "why" of religious fanaticism. Why destroy the lives of people who find immense happiness in simply living their lives? They pose no threat to anyone, let alone care about these barbaric insurgents’ philosophies. When a young girl's head is severed from her body while on a bus because her face is not properly covered, hearing about it enrages the community. It made me wonder, is evil infectious?
"Of Gods and Men" is masterfully and beautifully executed. The inspiration permeating every frame of the film is haunting. The power of love exemplified by the monks as well as the villagers radiates such hope. But as the monks are marched and disappear into the light at the conclusion, a quote in the film came back to me. "Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction." And, once again, my hope was shattered.
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