Un­moved by faith

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images - Jonathan Richards For The New Mex­i­can

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.

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