by HELEN GEIB
Of Gods and Men is a dramatization of the last months of a Trappist monastery in Algeria. Seven of the nine French monks were kidnapped and murdered by Islamic terrorists during the Algerian civil war of the 1990s. The script is faithful to the historical record, including writings left by some of the victims and testimony of the survivors.
While the film sketches in the political and cultural backdrop, at its core is an episodic account of the monks’ daily lives and a chronicle of their private and communal deliberations whether to leave or stay.
In their dedication to the religious life and in their decision to stay, the monks refused to accommodate themselves to the secular world. The film honors them by refusing to accommodate itself to an audience impatient for conventional dramatics. It unfolds at the unhurried pace and follows the cyclical rhythm of monastic life. It demands unwavering attention and imaginative engagement with a profoundly foreign way of thinking and living. Viewers able and willing to give both are rewarded with a thought-provoking and moving testament.
Of Gods and Men won the Cesar (the French Oscar) for best film and the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2010. It is available on Blu-ray and in a Blu-ray/DVD combo edition. Extras are two short documentary features about the monks.
Note: The best preparation for watching Of Gods and Men is to watch Into Great Silence, the 2007 documentary filmed at the Grand Chartreuse monastery of the Carthusian order.
Other new releases this week: 13 Assassins, Hobo With a Shotgun