Star Rating:

Of Gods And Men

Actors: Michael Lonsdale, Lambert Wilson

Release Date: Monday 30th November -0001

Genre(s): Drama

Running time: 120 minutes

A Grand Prix winner at Cannes, this based-on-a-true-story drama may be slow to get going, and just as slow once it gets there, but the central performances and overall theme keep one's eyes glued to the screen.

Above a tiny Algerian village sits a monastery that houses eight Cistercian-Trappist monks. They live in harmony with the Arab locals despite the religious divide, with Brother Luc (Lonsdale) doubling up as a doctor and a sympathetic ear, offering advice to those who need it. Word of growing tensions reaches the monks when they hear that an 18-year-old girl was stabbed to death for not wearing a hijab. Later, Croatian workers are brutally massacred and the message goes out that all foreigners must leave the land. Urged by the 'corrupt government' to heed the warnings and refusing the protection of the troops, the monks debate the idea of leaving before the Mujahideen, fronted by Fayattia (Larbi), arrive at their gates.

Of Gods And Men is a clash of faiths and an exploration in what those are prepared to do to defend it, but it showcases the difference between those who are religious and extremists and the significant gap between the two; director Xavier Beauvois is determined that both are not to be tarnished with the same brush. Beauvois' film also raises the point that the blame for the tensions could be laid at the door of 'aggressive French colonialism'.

There are a few scenes that are easily forgotten – the repetitive showing of the monks at morning prayer – but there are a number of scenes that will burn in the memory: Brother Christian (Wilson) and the village elders discuss the growing extremism; Christophe's (Olivier Rabourdin) nightly pleas to his God not to abandon him, pleas that echo through the thin walls of the monastery; Christian's use of the Koran to satiate Fayattia on Christmas Eve; and the dinner where the monks enjoy a glass of wine and music than unleashes their pent-up emotions.

Admittedly sometimes dreary in making its doggedly unhurried way to a powerful climax, sticking around for that ending makes those leisurely moments worthwhile.