DVD Review - Of Gods and Men

Seven, Trappist monks died in the spring of 1996. They were decapitated in the snowy mountains of Algeria. An Islamic rebel group kidnapped them. The group held them hostage in exchange for the Algerian government freeing Muslim prisoners. Filmmaker Xavier Beauvois recounts the likely events leading up to those deaths.

Lambert Wilson, 52, stars as Dom Christian de Chergé, the leader of the group at Monastère de l'Atlas or the Tibhirine Monastery. The monastery is tucked away where the monks can live and worship in peace. It's where they can also serve the nearby community. They offer counsel, perhaps proselytize and more importantly provide medical assistance. One of the monks is a doctor named Brother Luc, played by 79-year-old Michael Lonsdale.

The inciting incident comes when a band of terrorists kill some Croatians who lived close to the monastery. This concerns the monks who fear the terrorists could do the same to them. Dom Christian believes that the monks staying there is their calling. Plus, they offer an invaluable service that people there need, but some of the other monks fear for their lives and want to leave.

Beavois definitely shows how devout these men are. There are numerous shots of them regularly dressed in all white robes, praying and performing sacrament. Thanks to the look and performances, we get a sense of what these men feel and why they do, but we never really get anything else or anything more in-depth about them.

Besides one sequence where Beauvois displays the upclose faces of these men, his camera remains at a distinct distance from them. Aside from their names, his script never allows us to get to know these men and make distinct their personalities and backstories. Like with the recent, Oscar-winning Milk (2008), this movie was more about an idea than it was about the people.

Early in the film, one of the elder monks gives counsel to a young girl who asks him about love and how you know it. Presumably, the young girl is to be joined in an arranged marriage to a young man whom she doesn't love. Later, Dom Christian is shown a dead terrorist and he offers the corpse a prayer, which upsets a less devout man. Christian also asserts that as a monk he has to be willing to die for his faith, and to die with love and hope in his heart, even for a man or men who would kill him, as Jesus Christ did.

Beauvois and his actors do a good job of demonstrating this idea. Unfortunately, Beavois dwells too much in the mundane and the ritualistic. He at times establishes some tension, but there's relatively no drama here. Besides being decent and caring human beings, there's nothing here to make me latch onto these men of God.

Two Stars out of Five.
Rated PG-13 for some disturbing images.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 2 mins.


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