During the first 20 minutes of Xavier Beauvois’ Of Gods & Men (Des Hommes et Des Dieux) I thought “Oh no. Another boring Cannes Film Festival auteur special”. Not much happens. A half-dozen monks sing prayers in a rural monastery. They garden and cook. A doctor receives ailing villagers. A young woman wonders whether she’s in love. Ho-hum.
But the film snowballs into a shattering dramatization of the conflict between spirituality and practicality, Christianity and radical Islam and, yes good and evil. Based on a true story of a monastery trying to survive the onslaught of radical Islam as it sweeps through Algeria, the film delves deeply into the predicament of monks trying to decide whether to stay or leave. As violence and terrorism bear down on them, each monk must excavate their souls. What is a good life? How far should their commitment to serve the villagers go? What is the Christian way?
The acting is superb; each monk is highly individualized. With little exposition, we feel as though we know these men intimately and care deeply about them and their fate. Profoundly spiritual and emotionally powerful, this highly intelligent movie is bold enough to ask the big questions and trusts the audience to find their own answers.Follow me!