An evocative depiction of monastic life

Political terror visits a French-run monastery in Algeria

Of Gods and Men, directed by Xavier Beauvois is currently playing at UVic's Cinecenta.

Political terror visits a French-run monastery in Algeria

 

Films centring on Christianity tend to be either boring portraits of plaster saints or harsh criticisms of a corrupt church that has lost its way. And then along comes Of God and Men by French director Xavier Beauvois.

Winner of the grand prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival (plus many other awards), this is an evocative depiction of monastic life, a subtle examination of what it means to dedicate yourself to God, and a quietly dramatic real-life account of events at a French-run monastery in Algeria in 1996 when Islamic extremists began a country-wide campaign of violence and terror.

Filmed in muted colours and presented with elegance and simplicity, Of Gods and Men begins with a series of quick scenes and images: monks dressed in snow-white robes chanting in the chapel; the sharing of food at a plain meal; monks studying religious texts at their desks and looking like 60-year-old schoolboys; a lineup of Arab villagers waiting for medical attention at the monastery’s clinic. The simple rhythms of this life draw us in, and we gradually come to know these eight Trappist monks as we watch them at prayer, then labouring in the field or making honey to sell in the local market. A scene of them attending an Arab celebration and a quick image of one of the monks reading a Koran translated into French is further evidence of how honestly and humbly they have blended into the lives of the Arabs who surround them.

Things start to get nasty when some nearby Croatian workers are massacred by the same Islamic extremists who have recently begun stabbing women for not wearing veils. The monks argue amongst themselves because their leader, Brother Christian, has unilaterally declined the offer of a protective military presence at the monastery. “I do not seek martyrdom,” asserts one monk. Another wonders whether they should return to France, or if that represents an abdication of their vows to serve God. The threat becomes tangible when gun-toting rebels burst into the monastery demanding medicine; days later, they return with an injured comrade and insist that his bullet wounds be treated.

Meanwhile, a government official tries to order them back to France. And with violence increasing, the soldiers have become suspicious of the monks, mistaking their compassionate acceptance of the humanity of the terrorists as sympathy for the cause. Finally, with tensions rising on all sides, the monks come to a unanimous decision about what their religious duty demands of them.

Of Gods paints a compelling portrait of a life in Christ, at the same time commenting on the friction between Christians and Muslims and the ramifications of France’s postcolonial guilt. The film is also effective at contrasting the timeless medieval rhythms of monastic life with the specifics of contemporary political terror. Thoughtful and eloquent, humble and moving, this is a must-see for fans of serious filmmaking. M

Just Posted

Bill Gaston, Monique Gray Smith capture Victoria Book Prizes for 2018

Butler Book Prize and Bolen Books Children’s Book Prize winners collect $5,000 each

Canada’s country music sweetheart brings The Gumboot Kids to town

Jessie Farrell to perform songs from her hit CBC TV series at McTavish Academy of Arts

VIFF wrap-up: Finely crafted films part of festival finale

Monday reviewer Kyle Wells puts a cap on his 2018 Vancouver International Film Festival experience

FILM REVIEWS: Race relations, refugees and racy romances featured at VIFF

Monday reviewer Kyle Wells presents round 2 from the Vancouver International Film Fest

An eye for art: The new and the notable at fall’s premier arts event

Sidney Fine Art Show shares wealth of Island talent Oct. 11 to 13

WATCH: Twelve Angry Jurors puts a new spin on an old tale

Canadian College of Performing Arts opens season with reworked version of Reginald Rose teleplay

WATCH: Twelve Angry Jurors puts a new spin on an old tale

Canadian College of Performing Arts opens season with reworked version of Reginald Rose teleplay

INDY FILM FARE: 1970s hedonism and more at The Vic Theatre

From Studio 54 to Rocky Horror, there’s plenty of excess to observe this month

Shark-attack metal band coming to Victoria tonight

Shark Infested Daughters, a Calgary metalcore group, play the Upstairs Cabaret tonight, Oct. 13

STAGE AND SONG: Spotlight on Victoria arts groups

Learn about some of the city’s favourite theatre and musical entertainment options

Island lensman Jim Decker lands three top photography awards

During exciting photo trip to Yap in Micronesia, Cobble Hill man earns trio of firsts

Celebrate Oktoberfest Stein and Dine at the Victoria Public Market

Food, suds and German-style fun on tap at Oct. 20 event

Most Read