Of Gods and Men – A Plea for Tolerance and Understanding

Article publié dans FR2DAY en 2010 (article published in FR2DAY in 2010)

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Released just a week ago and winner of the Grand Prix at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Xavier Beauvois’s latest movie “Des hommes et des dieux” (Of Gods and Men”) is a beautiful hymn to peace and fraternity, as well as a compassionate plea for tolerance and understanding between religions.

The movie, which is set in a Cistercian monastery in Algeria, is based on the true story of seven French monks who were killed by Islamic fundamentalists in 1996. Nearly 15 years have passed since the tragedy but the identity of those responsible remains unclear. The massacre was initially attributed to the GIA (Groupe Islamique Armé) but according to documents from French secret services, the monks may have been killed instead by the Algerian army during a failed rescue attempt.

Beauvois does not try to solve the mystery but instead focuses on the last few months of the monks, their quiet existence in the monastery in cordial harmony with the local Muslim population, and their doubts as the country is increasingly falling into the grips of fundamentalists. His film may be about men of God but it goes beyond religion to become a movie about men.

Should we stay or should we leave? That’s the question the brothers are musing on for the most part of the movie. ‘Dying for my faith shouldn’t keep me up at nights,’ says at one point one of the Cistercian monks to the others but as days go by and violence escalates outside their walls, none of them manages to present any real argument for leaving or for staying.

Without any artifices or unnecessary melodrama, Beauvois put the audience in the monks’ sandals and lets the story tell itself. The brothers are endearing characters and are portrayed by a terrific ensemble cast led by Lambert Wilson and Michael Lonsdale. In the dinner sequence near the end, the camera shows each protagonist one by one and it is hard not to be mesmerized by those faces.

Xavier Beauvois has made a name for himself with movies such as N’oublie pas que tu vas mourir (Don’t Forget You’re Going To Die) in 1995 and the police story Le Petit Lieutenant (2005) but with this powerful drama, he is really showing that he is mastering his art.

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