June 14, 2012 By Ali Ahsan

An Intriguing Tale of Faith

Of God and Men, titled Des hommes et des dieux originally in French, is a drama based on a true story. One of the most critically acclaimed movies of 2010, the movie is set in a small picturesque village in the northern mountains of Algeria. The movie narrates the events in the lives of six Christian monks living at a monastery in the village.

Director Xavier Beauvois deserves a pat on his back for bravely dealing with an issue as sensitive as this one in which religion matters the most and which thematically transcends the borders of Algeria and France. The movie has a French star cast of Limbert Wilson (Matrix Reloaded fame) and Michael Lonsdale.

Of God and Men

The movie slowly captivates the audience with the ground realities of the village, of which the monks form an integral part. They form a symbiosis with villagers, a majority of whom are Muslims, who live farming, cultivating honey, treating patients and teaching children. Unfortunately, the signs of radicalism (which critics address with a politically dubious term fundamentalism or terrorism) emerge to unsettle the peace and tranquillity of the village. What we see are all familiar visuals: murders of foreign construction workers, kidnapping, and enforcement of hijab. The atmosphere worsens when Fayyatia, the terrorist leader, barricades the monastery and asks the villagers at gunpoint to help a person in the gang.

The dialogue between Christian, the protagonist and Fattiyya turns out to be one of the most gripping scenes in the movie. The monks have a vote amongst them and decide to face situations, however grave they are.  In danger, they contemplate going back to France at one point of time. But Haji’s wife intervenes saying, ‘We are the bird here and we would lose our footing without the branch.’ The metaphor is apt to signify the bond of correlation between the monks (signified as branch) and the villagers.

Atypical of all successful French movies, the movie has neither visual effects nor a background score. Though the frame is rich and extensive covering the panorama of valleys in Algeria, there is not much emphasis on the scenic beauty and nature. The focus of the director is on the mindscape of characters and the emotional aspects of the movie. The aesthetic part has not sufficiently been brought under the scanner. The regular prayers sung by the monks provide the only music in the movie other than the grand theme of Swan Lake in one heart-rending scene that captures the innate feelings of the monks. Here the director recreates his own version of the Last Supper.

The movie ends on an ambiguous note as the monks held hostage embark upon a long walk.  Xavier Beauvois hits the bullseye by letting viewers reach their own conclusion. Depicting the spiritual bonds of people which run counter to the political grand narratives, the movie however does not analyse the nuances of assassination of the monks of Tibhirine in 1996, on which the movie is based. The masterminds of the event are still dubious, as not only was there confirmation by media of the role of Islamist groups (GIA)-who claimed the responsibility-but there were doubts about the Algerian Army itself (retired General Francois Buchwalter, the then French military attaché , reports that they were accidentally killed by the Algerian army in a rescue attempt, and claims have been made that the GIA itself was a cat’s paw of Algeria’s secret services (DRS). The politics of the director of building his narrative on a fragile and dubious political event, especially at a time when the homogenising tendency was explicit in France under Nicolas Sarkozy, can be questioned. But the movie is poesy about fraternity and solidarity. It’s only that the context could have been more unambiguous.

Though Of God and Men was snubbed at the Oscars, it won the grand prize at the Cannes and it is one of the films that deserve a go.


Of Gods and Men (2010)
Des hommes et des dieux (original title)

Director: Xavier Beauvois
Writers: Xavier Beauvois (adaptation) (dialogue), Etienne Comar (scenario)
Stars: Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale and Olivier Rabourdin |

Produced by : Pascal Caucheteux, Etienne Comar

Cinematography: Caroline Champetier

Editing: Marie-Julie Maille

Posted in: Culture, Movies