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Of Gods and Men

September 14, 2015

OGAM 2Should stay or should I go? Thai’s the dilemma facing the French Cistercian monks in French writer-director Xavier Beauvois’ ‘Of Gods and Men’, which imagines life in an Algerian monastery as its inhabitants face a threat of violence from Islamic fundamentalists in their serene corner of the Atlas Mountains. This film tackles the gruesome, real-life horror story set in 1996 Algeria, when seven French monks were beheaded by Islamic militants. Or were they? The director has said that be personally believed that their deaths were the result of a blunder by the Algerian military

In 1992, when it became clear that Algerian voters were going to elect Islamic candidates, the army intervened so as to save the country’s “democracy” — by destroying it. A civil war between the two groups ensued, leaving more than 200,000 dead in that country of 27 million. The rest of world, as usual, mostly looked away
Whole villages were massacred during that time — by either side, with one group blaming the other — but more than anything, what caught the attention of the rest of the world was the plight of the seven Christian Europeans caught in the Muslim crossfire.

Instead of focusing on the politics behind the kidnapping and murder of the French monks, Beauvois’ chief concern is on the monks’ own inner struggles.
The monks insisted on being extremely neutral, on not taking sides,” He told the press. “They called the terrorists the brothers from the mountain’ and called the people from the army the brothers from the plain.’ .. . It seems totally coherent for the movie to adopt their point of view.”

The film deals in peril and danger and maintains a friendly grip on you over two hours as a thriller in a very minor key but mostly this is a film about the journey, not the destination, as confirmed by Beauvois’s final, open image of the monks walking in the snow. The way it dramatises anxieties, expressed and unexpressed, is enthralling and quietly provocative.

“Of Gods and Men” is a parable that has as much to say about life within a community as it does about relations with those outside it, such as the Muslim villagers, the fundamentalists and the authorities with whom the monks try to find an accord. The director has made a realist piece, with documentary stylings and spiritual leanings, and arm which hints at a wider relevance without laying on thick its message of brotherhood and reconciliation.

And the film has a strong pacifist message. At one point, the government army tries to insist on armed protection, but the brothers refuse. The monks try to continue as before, but the atmosphere grows tenser by the day. When they agree to treat some of the terrorists, the authorities are furious, and put pressure on them to return to France. Anglican Peacemaker December 2010

 The film opens with a quotation from Psalm 82:6-7: “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.”

It climaxes in a quite incredible “Last Supper” sequence, in which the monks share red wine to the accompaniment of Tchaikovsky’s Grand Theme from Swan Lake, playing on an old tape machine in the corner.

OGAMChristian: [Voice-over] Should it ever befall me, and it could happen today, to be a victim of the terrorism swallowing up all foreigners here, I would like my community, my church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to his country. That the Unique Master of all life was no stranger to this brutal departure. And that my death is the same as so many other violent ones, consigned to the apathy of oblivion. I’ve lived enough to know, I am complicit in the evil that, alas, prevails over the world and the evil that will smite me blindly. I could never desire such a death. I could never feel gladdened that these people I love be accused randomly of my murder. I know the contempt felt for the people here, indiscriminately. And I know how Islam is distorted by a certain Islamism. This country, and Islam, for me are something different. They’re a body and a soul. My death, of course, will quickly vindicate those who call me naïve or idealistic, but they must know that I will be freed of a burning curiosity and, God willing, will immerse my gaze in the Father’s and contemplate with him his children of Islam as he sees them. This thank you which encompasses my entire life includes you, of course, friends of yesterday and today, and you too, friend of last minute, who knew not what you were doing. Yes, to you as well I address this thank you and this farewell which you envisaged. May we meet again, happy thieves in Paradise, if it pleases God the Father of us both. Amen. Insha’Allah.

police chief: “I blame French colonisation for not letting Algeria grow up.”

[Celestin] I’d have let everyone speak and listened to each opinion.

[Christian] To answer what, in the end?

 

[Christophe] Dying, here and now, does it achieve anything?

[Christian] Remember. You’ve already given your life. You gave it by following Christ. When you decided to leave everything. Your life, your family, your country. The family you could have raised.

[Christophe] I don’t know if it’s true anymore. I don’t get it. Why be martyrs? For God? To be heroes? To prove we’re the best?

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From → Church History, Film

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