fri 01/07/2022

DVD: Of Gods and Men | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Of Gods and Men

DVD: Of Gods and Men

All the wisdom of religion and none of the nonsense: the monks of Tibhirine honoured in a masterpiece

At the risk of sounding falsely pious, as this stunning film never is, Des hommes et des dieux, to give its differently emphasised French title, should be screened in every school and to every faith around the world. Xavier Beauvois sensitively takes us through the true-to-life decisions of seven Cistercian monks in the Algerian monastery of Tibhirine to stay and face not martyrdom but the life they have always known during the civil war between Islamic extremists and the government.

Their deaths, which took place some time after their abduction in March 1996, are not the point; it's the way these remarkable human beings' lives, words and attitudes are captured with certifiable truthfulness by a dedicated team of actors which will resonate with every viewer. There's the testament of Dom Christian de Chergé - an unexpected and luminous performance from Lambert Wilson - who places the Bible and the Koran side by side and signs off "Amen, Insha'Allah"; the wisdom, wry wit and generosity of Brother Luc (the wonderful Michael Lonsdale) with his free clinic serving the local community; and the powerfully voiced doubts of Brother Paul. In an essential if short accompanying documentary which is all that's needed by way of an extra, their nieces and nephews testify to the ongoing impact of these good men.

Caroline Champetier's cinematography and the soundtrack always serve the essence of this unlikely French hit. The only music is the chanting of the monks - until the most striking of several set pieces, a kind of last supper to the Swan Lake theme emanating from an old tape recorder which surely gains its power from the fact that none of the participants knew what was about to be played. Even if you were just to read the script, you'd take away enough collected wisdom from all the best aspects of religion to last a lifetime; but this is the full cinematic experience. For me - and especially on a second viewing - it's simply one of the greatest films of all time.

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