Monday, May 9, 2011

Of Gods and Men

On the recommendation of our own Fr. Cregan, I went to go see "Of Gods and Men" last night at the movie theater in Shirlington.

It was good. It's been a while since I've been to the theater to see a movie, so I was not prepared to pay $11 (that's per ticket, not for a pair). But the film itself was quite good. Here is a summary from the Catholic News Service --
Brilliant dramatization of real events, recounting the fate of a small community of French Trappists (led by Lambert Wilson and including Michael Lonsdale ) living in Algeria during that nation's civil war in the 1990s. Targeted by violent Muslim extremists, the monks must decide whether to continue their medical and social work for the local population or abandon them by fleeing to safety. Using the tools of the monastic life itself, director Xavier Beauvois finds a path to the heart of the Gospel through simplicity, a compassionate sense of brotherhood and an atmosphere of prayer enriched by sacred music and potent silence. The result, a profound mediation on the cost of discipleship, is a viewing experience from which every adult as well as many mature teens can expect to profit. In French. Subtitles. Brief gory violence, some unsettling images and a single instance each of rough and crass language.

Movie Review
by Steven D. Greydanus

Xavier Beauvois’ sublime Of Gods and Men is that almost unheard-of film that you do not judge — it judges you. To one degree or another it defies every attempt to put it in a box, to reduce its challenge to a political or pious ideological stance to be affirmed or critiqued. . . .

The film is based on the true story of nine French Trappist monks of the Monastery of Our Lady of Atlas near the village of Tibhirine in Algeria’s Atlas Mountains, about 60 miles from Algiers, most of whom were beheaded in a 1996 incident during the Algerian Civil War. In late March the monks were taken hostage by the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which demanded the release of prisoners held by the French government. Two months later the GIA claimed responsibility for the monks’ deaths, although the circumstances remain unclear.

Of Gods and Men is not about how the monks died, but how they lived and why they were willing to die. It tells the story of nine imperfect men who made a difficult choice to stay in a war-torn foreign country that countless citizens would gladly have fled if they could. Caught between a corrupt military government and violent extremist Muslim groups, the brothers’ choices are defined by two other relationships. One is their relationship with the Muslim villagers of Tibhirine, who regard the monks as their friends and benefactors. The other relationship is the crucial one, with a unseen Beloved. . . .

The film’s heart is the brothers’ soul-searching debate about whether to stay or to go — a remarkably nuanced debate that raises questions about the nature of community, authority, mission and sacrifice. . . . Everyone agrees that they aren’t called to pursue martyrdom or collective suicide, but danger of death, both abstract and concrete, elicits varying levels of fearfulness and courage. . . .

Of Gods and Men is deeply theological and liturgical — I can think of no other film that combines so much chant and hymnody with so much in-depth discussion of the Incarnation and the meaning of vocation and martyrdom — yet its theology and liturgy is utterly practical and relevant to the real-world crises outside the monastery walls. . . .
The film is nearing the end of its theatrical run -- a run that was mostly at the art-house type of movie theater, such as the theater at Shirlington. But it is scheduled to be released on DVD soon.

Before the movie, there was an intriguing preview for The Tree of Life, by Terrence Malick, who is known for his beautiful cinematography, and the slow (time-stopping, molasses slow), deliberate pacing of his films, which have included Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, and The New World. If the preview is any indication, this too promises to be a slow, but beautifully-filmed movie. I would just hope the story would measure up to the cinematography.

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