Keeping the Faith in "Of Gods and Men"

The eight gentle Trappist monks depicted in Of Gods and Men uphold the faith that brought them from France to Algeria only to be abducted and massacred, presumably by fanatics of a rival religious persuasion. The movie, based on a 1996 event that continues to resonate in France, opens on a festive note, with a panoramic view of the Algerian (actually Moroccan) hills. Perched just outside an impoverished-looking Arab village, the monastery is also a clinic. The monks, well integrated into the community, are seen attending a neighborhood celebration and even partaking in the Muslim service. All are kindly, lovable, souls, but only two have much depth. Uniformly pious, they give glory to God in solemnly symmetrical shots of group prayers and unison singing. Life is idyllic until a terrorist attack on some Croatian workers makes it evident, as the abbot says, that "staying here is as mad as being a monk." After much prayer and discussion, the brothers decide to stay, refusing military protection even after the rebel fundamentalists of the Armed Islamic Group pay a Christmas Eve visit. The story resembles that of Claire Denis' White Material, but where White Material is knowingly postcolonial, Of Gods and Men aspires to the timeless. Director Xavier Beauvois has no sense of the monks' otherness or the notion that while the brothers enjoy their piece of heaven, those around them might be suffering in hell.

 
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