A delicate and poignant film that transcends its simple origins to become something altogether mesmerizing.
A delicate and poignant film that transcends its
simple origins to become something altogether mesmerizing.
Winner of the Grand Prix at last years Cannes Film
Festival Of Gods And Men
is a film so rife with nuance and contrast that it will have you pondering its
implications long after the credits have rolled. In so many ways the title is
as near perfect as you could hope for as the film deals, almost exclusively, with
men and their relationships with whatever God they chose to worship. What makes it all the more sumptuous is
that it is based, albeit loosely, on real events.
A group of
Christian monks live in their monastery in Muslim dominated Algeria. They are
an intricate part of the community, helping the locals with medical needs and
advising them on their troubles. However, when an extremist Muslim group
threatens the community the monks are told to leave by a corrupt government.
Banding together the monks must decide whether to stay, in the face of certain
death, to help the terrified locals or leave and question their faith in God
providing for them.
While the monks
have not taken a vow of silence they do perform their everyday tasks in as
quiet a way as possible. This permeates
into the film inducing a sense of comfort watching these men of God quietly go
about their lives. Writer-director Xavier
Beauvois infuses the film with a subdued ethereal tranquility. This is made
apparent as a military helicopter hovers over the monastery, guns at the ready,
a picture of terror from above. However, with the sound booming around them the
monks continue their prayers and the helicopter quietly disappears into the
distance. It is a moment that perfectly captures the spiritual nature, not only
of the characters, but of the film itself.
The religious context is profound but never to the
point of preaching. You
are not asked to share the beliefs on offer but merely, like the community and
the monks, accept them. With this in mind the film sparks a debate as to the
nature of religion and its tolerances. Essentially
any kind of extreme belief is dangerous, either to those who do not share it or
those who believe in something so strongly they are willing to die for it.
Crucial to this
though is that the monks are not painted as saints. They, like us, have their
doubts about the path they have set out to follow. Indeed when the inevitable
climax arrives we witness them having, essentially, a last supper. While the
theme from Swan Lake plays we pan around the room taking in each of the monks
and gauging their reactions. There is poetry to this moment and you have become
so attached to each of them it is hard no to find an ever-increasing lump in
Across the board
the performances are stunning and part of what draws you in. In particular Lambert Wilson as head monk Christian
is a picture of both stern resolve and anxious worry for his brothers. Normally
seen playing a villain, in films like The
Matrix Reloaded (2003) and Sahara
(2005), here his growing concern is infectious as his hands desperately rub
together with unease.
Of Gods And Men
is a rare example of a film in that it does less than most from a visual stand
point but achieves so much more as a result of it. The story is never overly dramatized but always painfully engaging.
Films are rarely able to make heaven and
earth collide but Of Gods And Men comes as close as you could hope for.