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Review: Of Gods and Men

movie-reviews Updated: May 26, 2010 18:28 IST
Gautaman Bhaskaran
Gautaman Bhaskaran
Hindustan Times
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Gautaman Bhaskaran

Gautaman Bhaskaran

Xavier Beauvois’ Of Gods and Men, which won the Grand Prize at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival, was one of the controversial entries. Tracing the events leading up to the kidnap and murder of seven Christian monks in a remote Algerian monastery, the work threatened to open old wounds. Once a French colony, Algeria, had a trying time under occupation that ended in 1962, but not before bloody brutality. Relations between the two countries still remain somewhat strained, though hundreds of Algerians have now made France their home and source of livelihood.

Termed enfant terrible, Beauvois, who made a mark in French cinema with dramatic movies like Don’t Forget You’re Going To Die (1995) and Le Petit Lieutenant (2005), uses this time a real incident to spin his story of monks, their meandering ways, their religion and the ritualistic harmony they share with the local Muslim population. The narrative leads leisurely to the climax, handled with dignified care.

Brother Luc, himself asthmatic and ailing, is the resident doctor, who cares for the sick, prudently dispensing the fast dwindling supplies of medicine, while Brother Christian, who heads the monastery, is a wonderful liberal well versed in the Quran as he is in the Bible. They have deep respect for the Islamic nation they have chosen to work for.

But Algeria is in the midst of extreme violence, and sooner or later, the monks understand, they can be targeted. When things begin to hot up, the monks have to decide whether to shut down the monastery or stay put. They decide to brave it out, and Beauvois beautifully builds up the plot to a climax that is compelling, almost rhythmic, without seeming like a thriller. Key scenes – where the monks without realising have their Last Supper to the strains of Swan Lake and, later, are seen trudging on harsh snow covered terrain – are brilliantly portrayed. Powerful close-ups of the monks are nuanced with disarming sensitivity.

Of Gods and Men could not have been more timely in France where a debate between secularism and Islam is now raging. In what appears like a little footnote, the work reveals that both faiths do share a common concern for humanity.