OF GODS AND MEN (2010)
SUNDAY 1st APRIL 10.00 am
TUESDAY 3rd APRIL 8.30 pm
RUNNING TIME 120 MINS
Eight French Christian monks live in harmony with their Muslim brothers in a monastery perched in the mountains of North Africa in the 1990s. When a crew of foreign workers is massacred by an Islamic fundamentalist group, fear sweeps though the region. The army offers them protection, but the monks refuse. Should they leave? Despite the growing menace in their midst, they slowly realize that they have no choice but to stay... come what may. This film is loosely based on the life of the Cistercian monks of Tibhirine in Algeria, from 1993 until their kidnapping in 1996.
Review by David Stratton
In the Atlas Mountains in North Africa in 1996, nine Trappist monks live in a remote monastery. Led by Brother Christian (Lambert Wilson), they are genuinely good men; they don't proselytise their religion, but they run a medical centre, and give support to the local people. The area is troubled by Muslim fundamentalists; nearby, some Croatian workers have been murdered; the government wants to place soldiers in the monastery, but the monks reject this; then they're advised to leave altogether, but the locals beg them to stay. On Christmas night, a group of Fundamentalists arrive at the monastery with a wounded man.
This outstanding film from director Xavier Beauvois is inspired by real events. Beauvois establishes the routine day-to-day life of these dedicated men with stark simplicity so that we come to know and like them, especially Brother Luc (Michel Lonsdale) who runs the clinic. But while we are invited to enter into this peaceful, cloistered world, we're very aware of the violence outside, and a feeling of impending doom becomes palpable as the film proceeds.
This was, for me, the best film screened at Cannes last year  - it won the Grand Prix or second prize. The other major film of last year's festival, Bertrand Tavernier's spectacular, intelligent swashbuckler The Princess of Montpensier, is getting a far too limited release in Melbourne this week - it's a splendid film that deserves much wider exposure.
Of Gods and Men is very different, a serene, contemplative work and a sad reminder of the results of fundamentalism.