In ‘Of Gods and Men,’ eight French monks living in the Algerian mountains choose humanity, not escape when faced with a chilling threat.
Sony Pictures Classic
"Of Gods and Men" is one of the most austerely beautiful movies about the monastic life that I've ever seen. Based on true events, it's about eight Cistercian monks from France who lived in the Algerian mountains in the 1990s before being kidnapped in 1996 by Islamist terrorists.
The director Xavier Beauvois and his coscreenwriter Etienne Comar set up a duality between the meditative life of the monks, with their interspersed silences and their four daily hours of chanting, and the outside world, with its violent incursions and threats. And yet the film-makers never seek to define either of these worlds as more "real" than the other.
The monks are, in essence, spiritual vessels, but no more so than the Algerian villagers with whom they live peaceably (and whom they make no attempt to convert). The film's thesis is expressed by the order's ostensible leader, Brother Christian (Lambert Wilson), whose testament, set down when death is imminent, blames no one. "I know which caricatures of Islam a certain Islamism encourages," he writes. "This country and Islam, for me, are something else. They are a body and a soul." The monks refuse military protection not because they are willing to die – many of them, in fact, are initially in favor of fleeing to France – but because to do so would place them above the station of all those villagers who are equally terrorized.