Sunday 5 December 2010

Review: Of Gods And Men (2010)

Based on the true story of a group of Cistercian monks of Tibhirine in Algeria, who were kidnapped by an Islamic fundamentalist faction in 1996, Xavier Beauvois’s Of Gods and Men (2010) focuses not on the kidnapping itself, but rather on the months leading up to it. A fully integrated part of the community, the monks run a free medical service and even participate in Muslim festivities, and are clearly loved and appreciated by the villagers. But when a group of Croatian workers are brutally murdered by Islamic extremists, the monks' position starts to look more precarious, and they are encouraged by the mayor to leave.

Two recent films about the lives of monks - Pavel Lungin's The Island (2006) and Saverio Costanzo's In Memory of Me (2007) - both drove me crazy with boredom, so I wasn’t exactly thrilled at the prospect of seeing Of Gods and Men. But, well, third time lucky, for Beauvois’s film is really a stunning piece of work. The director doesn’t ram home points about religious (in)tolerance or fill the film with dry debates on Islam vs. Christianity. Rather, he views the monks’ interactions - both with each other and the community at large - with patient, calm and tender observation. This drama on spiritual matters is among the most bracingly human films in recent memory. The ensemble cast do amazing work; an intensely subtle and sympathetic Lambert Wilson as the abbot Brother Christian, and the venerable Michael Lonsdale, as the group’s astute but ailing medic, are particularly fine. An already-celebrated late sequence in which the men listen to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, the camera moving between their variously sorrowful and enraptured faces as the music plays, is as emotionally overwhelming a scene as I’ve witnessed this year. A great, rewarding film, this; highly recommended. 


  1. I am just watching TOWERING INFERNO on tcm....anyhow
    must see this movie!!!

  2. Yes, you must! How many times have you seen The Towering Inferno, by the way? :)

  3. I've grown up watching Michael Lonsdale on film, his voice is very memorable. I will add this to my long to-see-list. 100% on rotten tomatoes, you don't get that every day! a stunning piece of work, I must be seeing it ( :