The fact-based story is set in 1996 at a Catholic Trappist monastery in rural Algeria. The eight brothers, led by Brother Christian (Lambert Wilson), live a simple life, serving the nearby village by operating a medical clinic. But the monastery soon becomes a philosophical battleground as Islamic fundamentalists begin terrorizing the area. Should they stay and risk their lives in order to continue their mission?
In effect, that question makes up the film’s central conflict, and Beauvois has no problem taking his time with the process of answering it. But the leisurely pacing allows time for the brothers to explore their calling not just through explicit dialogue, but through the hymns and scriptures that make up their daily lives. It builds to one of the most improbably emotional cinematic moments of the year, as Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake provides not just dramatic underscore but a recognition that the joys of this world are none too easy to give up, even for the noblest of causes.
Beauvois is perhaps a bit too pointed about making sure we understand that the terrorist rebels are in contrast to the Islamic Algerian villagers living their own faith in a much more moderate way. Yet he’s skillful at showing how Algerian government officials scoff at the brothers’ nonjudgmental embrace of all humanity. In a time when it’s too easy to consider fervor dangerous, here’s a case study for all of the things a committed community of believers can do right.
OF GODS AND MEN
Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale