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|Of Gods And Men |
Subtitled/US Region 1 DVD
Actor: Philippe Laudenbach
Director: Xavier Beauvois
Under threat by fundamentalist terrorists, a group of Trappist monks stationed with an impoverished Algerian community must decide whether to leave or stay.
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IVOR I. from CHICAGO, IL
Reviewed on 5/22/2013...
Probably the best recruiting tool for the Roman Catholic church since old J.C., his Bad Self, was out there with his disciples. Absolutely breathtakingly beautiful, this Spielbergian essay on the wonders of the human condition and our collective attraction to service, self-sacrifice and God sells martyrdom and the abstraction of absolute faith like so many Big Macs in the rocky mountain wasteland of Morocco's Atlas mountains. Lots of lip service is paid to the idyll of the human heart in conflict between its responsibility to both those we love which is often at odds with the desire to participate in the betterment of the human condition. To its credit the film only hints at the vast cultural differences which are so overwhelming in a post-colonialist world. Oh God, the director asks us all, why can't my film could be required viewing for everybody everywhere? Indeed, the film's Ã¼ber narcisstic writer/director Xavier Beauvois insists, tolerance and goodness supercede the human urges and familiar pulls of culture, history, corruption and vengeance.
Xavier Beauvois and his writing partner Etienne Comar know how to tell a story. To his credit, although Beauvois' message may be a tad difficult to digest philosophically, it still succeeds as a work of art. Based on a true story the civil war in 1990s Algeria, we fall into a Trappist Monastery inhabited by eight aging, devout monks, each of whom performs his duties which allows him subsist off the land and serve the impoverished, but charmingly rustic and backwards-ass local peasant villagers. Led by the handsome Christian, Lambert Wilson, and the old crusty charismatic physician Luc (Michael Lonsdale), they serve the locals, pray, study, sing and tend their gardens for food. The ensemble, Christophe (Olivier Rabourin), CÃ©lestin (Philippe Laudenbach), AmÃ©dÃ©e (Jacques Herlin), Jean-Pierre (LoÃ¯c Pichon), Michel (Xavier Maly), and Paul (Jean-Marie Frin) are all splendid and photogenic. Things are perfect until a group of Jihadi terrorists crash the monastery to find medicine. These radical Islamic terrorists slaughter a group of Croatian engineers and construction workers and both the local authorities and the army try to persuade the monks to flee back to France. Each monk is sensitively seen undergoing a personal crisis of choice between fear of violent death and a parallel desire to serve the will of God. Death, it seems, can never overcome the power of God's love. All this, of course, may be a cinematic unexplained abstraction, but God's love lies in the frame.
As in Spielberg's 'Saving Private Ryan' or 'Lincoln,' the light of destiny and faith burns bright in all their doomed eyes. The Death Worshippers face their doom with a blithe aw-shucks sort of exquisite resignation, particularly Wilson and Lonsdale. Credit has to be given to cinematographer Caroline Champetier, who has studied her rennaissance art well, fixing on the visages of the monks at prayer or singing mass, her every frame is exquisite. Long periods of the the most engaging parts Of the film play out, and effectively so, in silence. What acts to ruin the movie is it's last manipulative quarter. The monks enjoy a last Christmas celebration, drinking wine and weeping en masse as they listen to Tchaikovsky's 'Swan Lake.' Unfortunately, not content to leave well alone and simply show the Jihadis arrival at the end of the music, we are subjected to fifteen minutes of the elderly monks being led away and struggling as they climb up the cruel, beautiful Atlas mountains through a snowy fog on the way to their sacrifice.
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