Of Gods and Men
The new film “Of Gods and Men” is a well-made, earnest, solemn, well acted, if a bit too long, story of a group of French monks in Algeria who face a difficult dilemma. Muslim terrorists have been wreaking havoc on the surrounding town. The monastery and the lives of the monks are at risk. There is no good answer for these men. If they stay they may be killed, but if they leave they will not be able to be of service to the town’s people. For example, one of the monks, an elderly man named Luc (Michael Lonsdale) is a doctor who sees over one hundred patients a day.
All that the monks have is their faith. We are shown in great detail the routine of the monks’ life – prayer, farming, selling their honey and leading a simple life of devotion.
The leader of the monks, Christian (Lambert Wilson) turns down protection offered by the military because he feels that the military is corrupt. Me? I’d take the protection from the corrupt military, as long it was me they were protecting, and ask if one of their men would give me a ride to the train station, or airport, so I could get out of there.
My main criticism of the film is that it did not provide an explanation of the context in which the story is taking place. We’re in Algeria, but we don’t know what year, at least not until the closing credits. What is the political climate? Who are these terrorists and what do they want? What are their objectives, besides wreaking general havoc? The way they are presented they seem like standard issue Muslim terrorists. At one point a government official blames French colonialism for the problem. Why? In one scene the terrorists attack and kill some migrant workers from Croatia. Did they kill these men because they were foreigners or because they were from Croatia and why?
The filmmakers assume a certain level of knowledge on the part of the audience. However, a little narration, or some well written and strategically placed expositional dialogue, would have been a good idea. It would have enabled me to understand the context, learn some of the history and then be able to concentrate more fully on the film’s central dilemma faced by the monks.
Of Gods and Men, Director Xavier Beauvois, 2010,
Why Not Productions, 122 minutes, rated PG-13