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Of Gods & Men

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Of Gods & Men

Cannes (Official Selection) - Based on true events, Of Gods & Men tells the story of a group of French monks, imperiled when the African nation in which they live witnesses a worrying escalation in its civil war. Paul Martin pays heed to a considered plea for tolerance.

For those immediately thinking to themselves that a cinematic tale of religious existence in a rugged foreign land sounds like a one-way guaranteed ticket to Dullsville then it is worth calling to mind Powell and Pressburger's Black Narcissus, an extraordinary, arresting account of nuns going nuts in the Himalayas. There is madness too in Xavier Beauvois's Of Gods & Men, although rather than being the stuff of gothic melodrama, here it is the far more depressingly familiar insanity of civil war, a trail of senseless civilian carnage resulting from the clashes between rebels and regime.

With bodies strewn by the roadsides and foreigners being brutally executed, the spectre of death seems to be looming ever nearer the monastère de l'Atlas, an outpost in a north African nation operated by a group of Cistercian monks under the leadership of the slightly priggish Brother Christian (Lambert Wilson, hedging his bets over starring in a Palme d'Or winner by appearing in both this and the also in-competition Princess of Montpensier). The monks are few in number, harmonious in the choral songs and prayers that play so key a part of their daily existence, yet an eclectic bunch in terms of personalities and temperaments.

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Amongst the order are Christophe (Olivier Rabourdin), the youngest and most emotionally febrile of the group, and Amédée (played by the 82-year-old Jacques Herlin), a sunny, gentle presence within the brotherhood. Then there is Luc, a gifted healer bringing relief to the native villagers who visit him in droves, but aging and in increasingly fragile health himself. Appearing as Luc is Michael Lonsdale, most widely known as evil Hugo Drax from Moonraker, and an actor whose instantly recognisable visage it is always a pleasure to see gracing the screen; whether it be in more intellectually ambitious fare such as this, or bringing some class to enjoyable dross like Caravan to Vaccares. For those who would claim acting is exclusively a question of talent, it is always worth noting the head start gifted to someone like Lonsdale, with his compelling face and wonderfully rich voice, both of which serve him as well as ever in Of Gods & Men.

When a rebel incursion into the monastery on Christmas eve concludes peacefully - Christian even seemingly earning the respect of local guerrilla leader Ali Fayattia (Farid Larbi) - it seems that the brethren's faith may yet see them through the violent storm engulfing the country (the real events on which Beauvois based his movie took place in Algeria, though the location remains unnamed within the narrative). However as the danger persists, the monks' resolve begins to waver and their unity threatens to splinter, some advocating an exit from the country, some swearing not to bow it intimidation.

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This is one of the questions beating at the heart of Beauvois's intelligent movie – whether these men who wish only to help others can best achieve this through an idealistic or pragmatic approach. The dilemma is skilfully evoked in one moment where Christian offers up a prayer for the state-designated 'terrorist' Ali Fayattia while in the company of a government commander. As the monk bows his head in quiet contemplation, the military man watches with naked contempt. Who is in the right? Is the commander an ice-veined cynic without an ounce of compassion? Or is Christian a foolish dreamer, recklessly placing himself and his charges in danger in a bid to prove some point of faith? Beauvois, who directs with an understated thoughtfulness throughout, leaves it entirely up to his audience to decide.

What the film does put forth in unequivocal terms is the strength that can be drawn from community, an idea most elegantly phrased in a latter scene which sees Christian, Luc and the others achieve a sublime oneness between themselves, wordlessly bonding over red wine and soaring music. Yet Of Gods & Men is not merely claiming this power of unity for the devout, with the monks also being seen to take great pleasure from their interactions with the Muslim civilians who live around them. And by the conclusion, Beauvois is bold enough to issue an unashamedly earnest plea for religious understanding, rightfully arguing that our common humanity should always triumph over theological differences.

Release date: TBC
Directed by: Xavier Beauvois
Written by: Etienne Comar, Xavier Beauvois
Cast: Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Rabourdin, Jacques Herlin
Rating: TBC not yet rated
Running time: 120 minutes

Ohhh please if anyone can find this on line post the link up thanks

TamattuT nnegh machi ghir i waghrom
Tattali zang u yis wa Traffed' agastur."
The shawi woman isn't just for house work
She rides the horse and carries a sword.