Written & Directed by Xavier Beauvois
Although I am not religious myself, the subject matter will never cease to be intriguing to me. There is something about it, the fanatical and mystical, the beauty and togetherness of it which will always remain a part of me and my interests, whether I actually call myself religious or not. The thing is, I am fascinated with all religions and feel as though they should all be approached with an equal, open mindset. This approach is somewhat mirrored in this French film, Of Gods and Men, which was the official submission of France into the 2010 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Although it did not garner a nomination, it still received must praise and attention.
The film is set in the 90s amidst turmoil in Algeria, which was formerly a French colony. A group of Christian monks run a monastery there in a small village. Despite the country, and the village, being predominantly Muslim, the monks are welcomed there because they provide much needed support to the small village, whether that be in the form of medicine or guidance. But when terrorists begin to threaten the area, the monks begin to discuss their safety and the possibility of leaving Algeria and returning to France. The small contingent of monks, led by Christian (Lambert Wilson), encounter the terrorists, villagers, and even contemplate the Almighty before finally coming to their logical end.
Religious narratives can be some of the most powerful set to film. The setup in this film, with the juxtaposition of the Christian monks against the terrorists in a Muslim country and Muslim village is very telling not only of the social conditions in Algeria then, but also of the social conditions in the Western World today. I will try not get into politics because, while I love talking about the controversial subject of religion, politics is a different bag altogether. But needless to say, writer/director Xavier Beauvois raises some interesting philosophical and religious questions with his film.
However, the problem with the film really is the fact that it is slow and not a whole lot happens. I mark it as the problem, though I must also admit that it seems to be the only way to make this sort of film: quiet, reflective, and slow is the way to go. But here, the reflectiveness, and the great questions that are being presented to the viewer, are not treated with enough interesting dialogue and discussion by the characters, the group of monks. Instead the film seems to inch along, replaying the same scene over and over: the monks discussing whether to leave or to stay.
By all accounts the film should be applauded for presenting such an important subject matter in the world today, and the fight for not just the French, but the whole world for religious freedom and peace at large, especially while abroad. And the characters in the film each have their distinguishing characteristics and reasons to relate to them and enjoy spending time with them. But at the end of the day it just didn’t grab me like a film like this should have, or like other films have. It almost feels like Beauvois came to the table with a great idea for a movie, and a good vision for how to do it, but just didn’t fully flesh out his idea. It’s incomplete, but that also means that some viewers will be able to bring their own vision to the film to perhaps be able to complete it. Sadly, I was not one of those viewers, even if I wish I were.