Of Gods and MenPowerful, yet serene, this true-life story is a remarkable portayal of faith under pressure

(Artificial Eye)
122 minutes (15)

Based on real events in Algeria in the late 1990s, this film shows what happened to a small group of monks as political events in the area came inside their front gate.

The monks live in harmony with their Muslim neighbours, providing medical care and friendship for the local community. When a group of foreign workers gets killed by Islamists and the event proves not to be an isolated incident, the whole area grows fearful.

Before long, the terrorists arrive at the monastery – but looking for medical help. The monks’ leader, brother Christian (Lambert Wilson) refuses – though gracefully and with reason: their medicines are already in short supply and Brother Luc (Michael Lonsdale), who treats patients, is too frail to travel. The terrorist group leaves.

Soon afterwards the army arrives to offer protection. The brothers have already begun to debate whether to stay, which would be like suicide, or be reasonable and leave. This now requires a decision. As the film develops, it traces the increasing tension outside, with more killings. Yet the tensions inside the monastery diminish, as they decide that their calling is to be with the people they serve, and not to abandon them.

The film moves towards the brothers’ almost inevitable kidnap. As they prepare, there is a scene with the brothers around a table in a Da Vinci Last Supper tableau, drinking wine and listening to Tchaikovsky.

The pace of the César award-winning film reflects their contemplative life, based around ritual and prayer, and takes time to portray the beauty of their relationships with the local villagers. One scene captures that as it shows how they give advice alongside their medicines. When a girl asks Brother Luc, “How do you know when you’re in love?” he replies, “There’s something inside you that comes alive. It’s irrepressible and makes your heart beat faster, usually.” The exchange shows the humanity of the monks. They may be celibate, but they still have feelings.

As Algeria was in a civil war, there was some uncertainty as to who was involved in the final actions. Whether for political reasons or because he wanted to focus on the monks’ attitudes and faith, director Xavier Beauvois reflects that ambiguity in his climax, which some may find disappointing. But he is right to show the internal struggles, as the brothers work out what God’s will is for them, and in that he shows an utterly Christian film, which conveys more than several sermons.

The casting is superb, with the actors convincing as monks, their bearing, sun-dried faces and serenity conveying the lifelong dedication of their calling.

This film earns its popularity and critical praise. For churches, it is essential viewing.


Derek Walker

{module Possibly Related Articles - Also search our Legacy Site}