Unmoved by faith
Of Gods and Men, drama, rated PG-13, in French and Arabic with subtitles, Regal DeVargas, 3.5 chiles
IIn Florida, an ignorant bigot in a pastor’s clothing burns a Koran in the name of Christianity and stirs up hatred, violence, and murder halfway around the globe. It’s a world away from the approach of a brotherhood of French Trappist monks in Algeria, whose life in a small community in the Atlas Mountains was lived in peace and friendship with their Muslim neighbors as the Algerian Civil War raged around them.
That story, based upon actual events in 1996, is told by French filmmaker Xavier Beauvois in his quiet, compelling, and beautifully observed film Of Gods and Men, which took the Grand Prix at Cannes as well as a host of other awards last year and was a box-office sensation in France, where people remember what happened.
The monks live and work in the rustic mountain village of Tibhirine as a benevolent presence, blending in with the lives of the Arab community as unobtrusively as they can. Brother Luc, played with rumpled serenity by the great Michel Lonsdale, tirelessly offers the local populace his medical expertise, along with fatherly advice on life and love when it is sought. Brother Christian (Lambert Wilson, best known here as the Merovingian in the Matrix movies) is the prior of the little monastery. He’s a man of erudition, dignity, and conviction, but he’s not a proselytizer. He studies the Koran and participates in colloquies and ceremonies with Muslim elders and neighbors. “Our mission here is to be brothers to all,” he says. “Love endures everything.”
And yet, of course, the very presence of these monks in Algeria is a legacy of French colonialism. This is pointed out by an official of the Algerian government who summons the Trappists to his office to discuss military protection for the monastery after an Islamist terrorist group cuts the throats of Croatian migrant workers at a nearby building site.
Brother Christian refuses military protection. A monastery is no place for armed soldiers. Some of the other brothers aren’t so sure.