Text: Manolis Kranakis
In a rare moment of cinematic precision, a director renegotiates the boundaries between human and divine delivering a film that dares you to… believe.
ike an experience. This is what ‘Of Gods And Men’ by Frenchman Xavier Beauvois, feels like. Having successfully won the Grand Prix in this year’s Cannes Festival, it delivers an experience rarely encountered in contemporary cinema of loaded narrative, speed and downright propaganda. Leaving behind what was once proclaimed as the ‘enfant terrible of French cinema’ (‘N’Οublie Pas que Tu Vas Mourir’ was in 1995 awarded with the same award), Beauvois returns to the primary values of cinema by recording a true, as well as unknown to many, story.
In the ‘90s, a small group of French Catholic monks live in a monastery in Algeria. Their lives are harmoniously divided between daily duties and co-existing with the poor rural community living on the outskirts of the monastery. The Civil War however rages and it’s not long before the monks will need to take the most crucial decision of their lives. Under the threat of being executed by islamic extremists as symbols of external faith and power, their time counts backwards. Their head government demands them to leave, their people begs them not to abandon them and it is up to the monks to decide. A decisive time for the eight monks to choose whether to follow their survival instinct or listen to their faith, the one that made them dedicate their lives to something beyond materiality and the body, beyond life and death. In March 1996 the monks were captured, held hostage and executed. Today their legend has survived as ‘The Atlas Martyrs’. Following the last few weeks in the lives of the monks, Beauvois also looks into a turbulent period in modern history in full knowledge of the enduring effect of an open wound. Far from trying to put an end to this political drama, the director’s attention turns on the great decision. We view the faces of eight people competing with their faith, their mission and especially their strength; everything that drives a man to overcome his earthy existence reaching the ‘image of God’. And if Beauvois succeeds, is because his direction accuracy and confidence faces up to his heroes’ doubts and inhibitions like two opposing poles colliding. This contrast creates a wrenching and apocalyptic journey and -at least- one breathtaking anthology scene (under Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’) in one of the greatest movies ever made on the subject of faith. Faith above and beyond religions, nationalities and political ideologies.