“Of Gods and Men” (Dir. Xavier Beauvois, 2010)
The most stirring scene of this immaculately affecting French film involves a group of Trappist monks singing towards a stained glass window in their Algerian monastery as an armed helicopter hovers above.
Granted, it takes a while to get there as this film is a real slow burner. We follow these monks, led by Lambert Wilson and Michael Lonsdale, through their serene daily routines for a long tranquil stretch before a bunch of Islamic terrorists start taking over the terrain.
The monks debate on whether they should stay or go – some believing they should uphold their sacred ground, and some thinking to stay would be “collective suicide.”
Based on a true story from 1996, “Of Gods and Men” beautifully builds to its profoundly powerful ending with a series of carefully crafted scenes. In one such scene, the monks drink wine to Tchaikosky’s “Swan Lake” and enjoy a moment of peace as doom looms nearer.
It’s so quiet and poetic a film, due to the solid cinematography of Caroline Champetier and the abundance of holy chants throughout the film, that when the brief instances of violence occur they really strike you.
Though a little too slow at times, Beauvois has made a spare yet intensely spiritual film that pays touching tribute to these men of faith, illuminating their final days sans sappy sentiment.
It shows that as often as the light can be salvation, it can also be the cold hard light of day. This film’s brave accomplishment is that it’s straight with us about that.
In French and Arabic, with English subtitles, “Of Gods and Men” is now playing in the Triangle in Raleigh at the Colony Theater, the Galaxy Cinema in Cary, the Carolina Theatre in Durham, and the Chelsea Theater in Chapel Hill. Click on the individual theater names for show-times.