"Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction." The speaker is Luc, an elderly Catholic monk played by 79-year-old Michael Lonsdale, quoting a pensée of Pascal. (From The Guardian Review linked to below)
Back in 2003, while in Brisbane, I purchased the 2002 published book The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria by John W. Kiser. It is the story of a community of Cistercian monks deeply rooted in the soil of Algeria. The San Francisco Chronicle then described the book as “a chronicle of faith that transcends any particular religious group or political affiliation.” The Washington Post notes that the “book paints a surprising picture of the bonds between Christians and Muslims, and provides a ray of hope for the future”. The story centres on the period 1995 to 21 May 1996.
Roll forward to 2010 and director Xavier Beauvois breathes life into the story and the French-language film Of God’s and Men is released. “…A small miracle of a film, it puts so much petty pedantry into humbling proportion, while offering a genuinely progressive vision of faith.” (The closing section of a review by Catherine Wheatley writing for Sight & Sound, Jan. 2011).
“…It is the most intensely passionate film at Cannes (2010) so far this year, and the fact that the passion is religious makes it no less moving. The early-morning audience wept yesterday in Of Gods and Men, Xavier Beauvois’s picture of the monks of the Atlas Mountains in Algeria, a beautifully told story of bravery and extraordinary understanding…” (Kate Muir, The Times: Sunday Times - here).
The Ecumenical Jury at the 2010 edition of the Cannes Film Festival awarded its top prize to Xavier Beauvois' Des hommes et des Dieux / Of Gods and Men.
Sadly it hasn’t had a general release in NZ, so has only been able to be seen in film festivals. So for me it’s likely to not be until the DVD release that I get to see it.
So, in place of a review from me, here’s an excerpt from Carl McColman whose review of a book featured in yesterday’s post:
“…The film moves slowly, and is for the most part quiet and contemplative; at times it felt like I was watching the Cistercian answer to Into Great Silence, the 2005 German documentary about Carthusian monks. The film repeatedly takes us back to the liturgy (sung beautifully in French), just as the normal day in the life of a monk repeatedly returns to the prayer of the community; as the movie progresses, this continual returning to the liturgy functions almost like a refrain to the poetic unfolding of the film’s story. One thing that really makes this movie shine is how authentic it is in its portrayal of the humanity of the monks, warts and all. Several of them are irascible and downright ornery, at one point one utters an extremely not-nice word. His companion mutters “he’s tired,” almost as if to make an excuse to the audience. People who have romanticized notions about monks never wearing anything other than their habits and never ever leaving the cloister will find a much more realistic portrayal of the down-to-earth men who have chosen to live alongside, and truly with, the simple but loving villagers who depend on them for medical care and friendship. Their life as a community of monks, in all its simplicity, humility, and sheer ordinariness, is presented in a beautiful, understated, matter-of-fact way — which is why I think the film succeeds not only as great cinema but as a great testament to faith…”