Des Hommes et des Deux (2010) 18
Of Gods and Men (2010) 18
Des Hommes et des Deux manages to tell a story and make you care about the characters whilst it exclaims its philosophy. It says what it has to say without preaching, which must be difficult in a movie where the main characters are monks in a subtle way. It is a modern masterpiece that doubtless will leave its message, and the complex issues that it raises, on the minds of people who have watched it for a long time.
Directed by Xavier Beauvois, the film is based on the lives of Cistercian monks in Algeria and there interaction with the local community in the 1990's during a time of great turmoil where Islamic extremists are taking over the village and according to one scene, the country, against everybody's dismay. The monks are constantly threatened by the presence of the fundamentalists and face a tough decision whether to stay or not as they are the backbone of the village and the only medical treatment the people of the village can gain access to.
The tone of the film does not attempt to portray the monks as all holy and is not quintessentially pro-christian. A lot of the film is the monks struggling with their own faith and each one of them attempt to deal with the events with their own conscience and the most powerful scenes are the ones with the monks sitting around deciding what they are going to do. The film, without actually vocalising it appears on all sorts of philosophical levels and manages to draw a line between the Islamic villagers feelings towards the monks and the terrorists. The main message of the film comes out as it being important to separate the ordinary Algerians with the terrorist uprising, it remains unsaid for much of the film however and is only alluded to once. Another interpretation would be that it is an examination of the lives of ordinary people and and ordinary village at a time of religious persecution, a portrayal of the monastery and village as a modern day Montailiou.
The monks are portrayed 3-dimensionally and the acting is incredible. In a departure from what we get in Hollywood drama's, the entire cast look like they are human beings who have lived through some life. They're acting is incredible and the emotion they portray is both subtle and something to empathise with. The script is written in a minimalist way so much that you believe that these are real people and this is how real people would act under the circumstances. One feels through the beautiful acting and the script the intense fraternity that the monks have... the one scene where they sing whilst an army helicopter flies overhead is incredibly moving and shows the spirit of brotherhood that the monks felt towards each other in the circumstances.
The film doesn't preach, even when the monks take mass it creates the feeling that they are carrying on with the ritual for themselves so that they can have the strength to carry on protecting the village. The film is not, on a basic level, about the religious themes but rather a group of aid workers who are in danger and having to wrestle with the decision, philosophically, personally and spiritually to leave or to stay.
The film is one of the most important film's of the year and is a piece of art in its own right. The storytelling is excellent as is the casting, direction and acting. It's shot beautifully, it's central messages and themes don't get lost despite a strong narrative and it deals with complex topics in simultaneously complex, intelligent and thought through ways. I would advise anybody to see this film. It won the Grand Prix de Jury at Cannes and I am fairly certain that it should win the Academy Award for best foreign film, if it doesn't it's because the judges didn't understand it. Better than anything I've seen this year yet, including Inception and Uncle Boonmee