The Cannes Film festival award winner OF GODS AND MEN has just been released on DVD. In a time when the multiplexes and pay for view channels are flooded with alien invasions, super heroes, and raunchy buddy comedies, this French drama, based closely on historical fact, is a poignant reminder that there are always serious topics that can be dramatized and be entertaining and thought-provoking. Directed and co-written by Xavier Beauvois, the film chronicles the excruciating decisions made by French Catholic priests during a time of political upheaval and terrorism in Algeria. Nine Trappist monks who have lived in harmony with the poor and sick Muslims near their monastery are quickly pulled into the political conflict between the Algerian government and a radical Islamist terrorist group. As the violence around them escalates, they must decide whether to leave for France or stay and face possible death.
The outcome is no surprise. What is surprising and enriching is the depiction of the monks' devotion to rituals, the local populace, and to each other. Photographed with almost religious artistry, OF GODS AND MEN shows the daily life of the monastery, especially the monks' beautiful chants during services. When it becomes apparent that their lives are endangered by both the terrorists and the fanatical army leaders, they must decide whether to leave or to stay and support the villagers. Eventually seven of them are kidnapped and martyred.
This short plot outline does not begin to do justice to the subtleties of this film. All of the actors embue their characters with warmth, love, and fear. To their leader, played with dignity and feeling by Lambert Wilson, falls the onerous duty of guiding and protecting his brothers. As their fate becomes imminent, their love for God and each other grows. And so does our deep respect for their faith and courage.