Of Gods and Men [Des Hommes et des Dieux] Movie Review
Christian (Wilson) is the leader of a group of eight French monks living in a Catholic monastery in rural Algeria. Their only mission is to pray and serve the local people, and over the generations they have become an integral part of the community. When fundamentalist tensions spill into violence in the country around them, they have a difficult decision to make: abandon the people and flee home to France or stand up to the injustice. Opinions are split, but they opt to seek an answer together. And their decision could cost them their lives.
Based on real events from the 1990s, the film examines a series of huge issues as it quietly weaves together the story. Most obvious is the way various characters grapple with extremism, from the government officials who are embarrassed for their nation to the terrified locals trying to get on with their lives. The priests and imams take a more philosophical view, of course, pointing out that passages in the Koran tell Muslims that Christians are their brothers and that killing neighbours is a sin punishable by death.
Even more interesting is the way the film approaches the priests themselves.
Their camaraderie is beautiful to watch, as they watch and listen to each other and to the community, offering subtle encouragement and any assistance they can. So when the threat against them becomes hideously real, their reaction is understandable: they band together in a quest to do the right thing. And the confrontations they enter are seriously scary.
Director Beauvois assembles this with an almost wordless script and scenes in which it everything that's happening is beneath the surface. But the suspense is building constantly, with sudden explosions of violence are incredibly intense. The emphasis might be on the priests' piety, but this is shown as something both personal and practical. It's certainly nothing like the radicalised, narrow-minded Christianity that grabs headlines in America.