Sunday, January 15, 2012

(:)(:)(:)(:)(:) for Of Gods and Men (Des Hommes et Des Deux)

5 snouts up for Of Gods and Men on DVD now (a 2010 film in French with English subtitles).  I had read about this movie and I had wanted to see it when it was in theaters, but couldn't convince my kids that it would be fun to see a movie about Trappist monks in terrorized Algeria struggling with their faith.  Given that plot, maybe I won't be able to convince you either.  Yet, I was blown away by this extraordinary movie.

Set in Algeria in the 1990s during a brutal civil war between the government and Islamic terrorists, the film is based on a true story about these French Trappist monks who have led a simple sweet existence there for decades.  It is difficult to explain what is so compelling about the story.  I guess it may be as simple as while the background is hate, the foreground is love.

Despite (or perhaps because of) their deep faith, these monks actually rarely speak of God in their exploration of what's right for each of them and for their community.  For the first 2/3rds of the movie, Love is the stand-in term for God, which makes for very beautiful and accessible conversations.  Because there's so much at stake (the lives of the monks and the people around them), there's this backdrop of tension that you might not otherwise find in a movie about a monastery on a hill.  At any moment the terrorists or the army could kick in the door.

Watching the monks'  faith, peace and knowledge of the Koran meet the terrorists' violence and hate on Christmas Eve is spellbinding.  Much of their community life with each other takes place around the simple wooden dinner table.  The conversations between the monks are so compellingly written as to need to be re-played immediately.  The scene where they drink wine and listen to a record of Swan Lake is haunting.

It's been a long time since I've seen a movie this well-written, well-acted, well-conceived.

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