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Algeria ,France: Film “Of Gods and Men” Sparks Conversation about Spirituality, Terrorism

Algeria stood out once again  at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival when Xavier Beauvois’ French film “Des Hommes et des Dieux” (“Of Gods and Men“) won the Grand Prix du Jury. The film, set in Algeria in 1996, depicts real events, when seven French monks of Tibhirine monastery were taken hostage by Islamic fundamentalists, and later murdered  in what might have been, according to  French secret service documents, an accidental killing by the Algerian military during  a rescue attempt. However, the film does not aim at shedding light on the facts, instead it is, as described in The Irish Times, a “thoughtful, unhurried meditation on the virtues and dangers of religious faith”, focusing on the spiritual path of these men when, facing gut-churning threats, they had to decide whether to stay or flee, and then carried on until martyrdom.

Bloggers are no exception in the general chorus of praises :

Lucy in the sky writes on le ciné d'anna (Fr):

L’histoire du film est parfaitement mise en contexte, sans pourtant se trouver délestée de sa dimension universelle. Des hommes et des dieux parle de foi, de doute, de parole, de résistance, de convictions, de fraternité, de courage, d‘engagement, de morale. Les moines de Beauvois sont des résistants, des gens intègres et généreux, des gens bien en somme, mais jamais le film ne se montre complaisant envers eux. La sobriété et la rigueur de la mise en scène laisse toute liberté au spectateur pour partager les interrogations et les doutes des personnages. Cela passe aussi par une interprétation, une incarnation, qui frôle la perfection.

The story in the film is perfectly set in its background, without being at all cut off from its universal dimension. Of Gods and Men is about faith, doubt, word, resistance, beliefs, brotherhood, courage, commitment, ethic. Beauvois’ monks are resistant fighters, honest and unselfish people, good people in one word, but the film is never indulging to them. The sobriety and precision of the production gives the audience the full scope of  the characters’ questionings and doubts. It is also conveyed by an interpretation, an incarnation close to perfection.

Benoît Thévenin, from Laterna Magica, shares her enthusiasm (Fr):

Xavier Beauvois sait être subtil et en l’occurrence, si Des Hommes et des Dieux est une si franche réussite, c’est parce que le cinéaste décrit progressivement, avec beaucoup de délicatesse, tous les cheminements de pensées qui vont conduire les moines à se laisser tuer pour une cause qui n’est pas la leur mais qu’ils semblent comprendre.

Xavier Beauvois knows about discerning, and in this case, if Of Gods and Men is so brilliant, it is because the director gradually and exquisitely depicts every unfolding of thoughts leading the monks to let themselves be killed for a cause which is not theirs, but which they however seem to have understanding for.

Off Cannes blog, on Rue 89, asks (Fr):

Tibhirine, un sanctuaire de sagesse catholique en sauvage terre musulmane?
Beauvois ne mange bien sûr pas de cette hostie-là. Le film abrite tout le monde en son église, ne cherche à évangéliser personne et met en scène des sentiments à vif, une foi dans la vie, envers et contre toutes les horreurs. Même les plus athées peuvent succomber à cette grâce qui ne porte qu'un nom : le cinéma.

Tibhirine, a shrine of Roman Catholic wiseness in wild Muslim land?
This kind of host is not Beauvois’ daily bread. The film shelters everybody in its church, does not aim at evangelizing anyone and stages sharp feelings, a faith in life, against all dreads. Even complete atheists may succumb to this grace whose only name is: cinema.

Accross the Mediterranean, reactions were however somewhat mixed.
From Senegal, Ndongo Camara is happy with both Algerian-related films (Fr):

mais mention spéciale à tous les fims à polémique ayant comme fonds commun l'algérie “Hors la loi” et “Des hommes et des Dieux”.

But a special mention for all controversial films with a common interest for Algeria, “Out of the Law” and “Of Gods and Men”.

Jeune Afrique online magazine regrets that the film does not show much of the country and people of Algeria (Fr):

À force de représenter une Algérie désincarnée, ne servant que de simple décor à une quête spirituelle dont elle était pourtant la raison d’être, les dieux comme les hommes semblent étrangement absents de ce territoire.

By depicting a disembodied Algeria, only used as a mere location for a spiritual quest it yet justified, both gods and men seem oddly away from this land.

Algerian bloggers also weigh in:

Jazairia, blogging on Forum Algérie, wrote under the title “An other kind of evangelization” (Fr):

Sans entrer dans la responsabilité de ces assassinats, le film fait partager au spectateur la vie de ces hommes et le place au coeur de leur choix éthique.
Sobre et épuré, “Des hommes et des dieux” bouleverse le spectateur en lui faisant vivre avec intensité le choix moral de ces hommes et leur sacrifice motivé par l'amour de Dieu, mais aussi de leurs frères musulmans.

The film does not tackle the responsibility of these murders, instead it leads the viewer into the lives of these men and to the core of their ethical choice.
Sober and chastened, “Of gods and men” overwhelms the viewer, who feels with acuteness the ethic dilemma of these men, and their sacrifice inspired by their love for God as well as for their Muslim brethren.

The post  so far has generated 36 comments, in a heated discussion ranging from relations between christianity and islam to theological issues about the trinity.

Let's conclude with young French script-writer and ardent film buff Sandra M., blogging at In the mood for Cannes (Fr):

C'est en effet un appel à la tolérance, à l'harmonie entre les peuples et les religions, une dénonciation de l'obscurantisme sous de fallacieux prétexte religieux, une ode au courage qui touche autant les croyants que les athées et les agnostiques.

It is indeed a call for tolerance, for harmony between nations and religions, a castigation of obscurantism under religious disguise, an ode to courage reaching believers as well as atheists and agnostics.

The film is due to open in theatres on Sept. 8. and the trailer is here.

1 comment

  • Martha

    Will this film be available in English … and Spanish?

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