Of Gods and Men is that rarest of films: an illuminating, pro-religious meditation on faith and courage in the face of certain death.
If anything, writer/director Xavier Beauvois has created a film which shows the difference between religious worship and religious extremism.
Based on a true incident, the film chronicles the last days of a group of Catholic monks, whose monastery is situated in a predominantly Islamic area in Algeria, living side by side in peaceful tranquillity with their Muslim neighbours. Yet that is shattered when extremism rears its ugly head in the form of a Muslim militia, set on removing any Christian influence, often with violent means.
The majority of the film dedicates itself to the depiction of religious life by these men of God, with work, prayer, and reflection all shown with beautiful clarity.
The latter especially so, with each member forced to look within themselves to reach a decision on whether to leave their community behind, or stay and face certain death.
Matters of faith and sacrifice follow, with many struggling to make sense of the situation placed in front of them. One powerful scene features a Brother (Olivier Rabourdin) screaming to God not to abandon him during his time of need. Other scenes feature moments of quiet reflection, void of dialogue yet speaking a thousand words.
There is reason for these men to be afraid. The violent nature of these terrorists is displayed in a brutal scene, where Croatian workers are killed in cold blood and plain sight.
Yet even though the threat of violence is always present, Of Gods and Men is not a violent movie. Written by Beauvois and Etieme Comar, it is filled with illuminating and touching material, with choice hymns and scripture from Christianity and Islam featured throughout, displaying the wisdom and beauty of both religions.
Especially impressive is the re-actions from these men to the threat of violence from their persecutors, with compassion and tolerance rising above all else.
Portrayed by a vast array of character actors, both young and old, Of Gods and Men is a terrifically acted movie. Lambert Wilson exudes the wisdom and strength of his Brother Christian, the spiritual leader of this group. Michael Lonsdale is also good, as the sharp witted monk/physician.
None of the cast or crew are religious, yet still they prevail in tapping into that religious spirit of worship and strength, community and brotherhood, faith in God and love for all.
A film to treasure and learn from. May many more of its kind see the inside of a movie theatre.