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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 26 February 2011
What is refreshing about the popular and critical success of Of Gods and Men (winner the Grand Prix at Cannes 2010) is not that it is particularly experimental or challenging, but rather that it avoids going either for the populist crowd-pleasing angle or the tear-jerker that its real-life inspiration seems to demand. The film is based on a true story of a small community of Cistercian monks in Tibhirine in Algeria caught up in the country's political troubles during the 1990s. The monks regard it as their duty to bring aid and provide medicine for the local villagers who are suffering because of the local unrest and the battles between the national army and Islamic fundamentalists, but they risk incurring the wrath not only of the fundamentalists through their spreading of Christian beliefs, but also the Algerian army who believe that they may be giving aid and medicine to wounded militants.

It would be all too easy to let the divide that exists in this situation and the choice that is faced by the monks to remain simplistic - should they stay or should they go? Even though there are some reservations expressed, there is never any doubt that the monks will come to the logical Christian conclusion and stay. What is rather more impressive however is how the director refuses to allow this decision to be seen, as it would in a more conventional film, as simply an act of heroism or bravery. The situation is not exploited shamelessly for heavy-handed sentimentality as it would be in a Hollywood production, but rather it goes deeper into the qualities that lie behind courage and potential martyrdom. What the monks have to grapple with are their own doubts, their own flaws, their own fears - their very humanity. It is not weak to confront these fears, but the true measure of the men is in how they come to terms with their human weaknesses without denying them.

Beauvois manages to draw the essential truth and beauty out of the film, and at the same time protect it from the intrusive elements that could indeed diminish its force, simply showing the closeness of their brotherhood, their willingness to understand and forgive, and their ability to reflect deeply not so much on the decision that must be taken whether to stay or to leave, but on a deep search into themselves for the heartfelt truth. These kind of reflections and questions are not so easy to put up on the screen without troublesome exposition, but Beauvois manages to show simply and effectively how the monks find this truth in their daily routines and in the simplicity of their lifestyle. It all comes down to life and the love of life itself, and the simple pleasures that can be gained from it.
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on 6 February 2011
An extraordinary film in which actors grew into monks before my eyes and their predicament became real. I was immensely touched by the evident love which existed between the monks and the villagers they served and moved by the image in which the former were compared to a strong branch on which the frail could perch. That such affection and concern could exist between Christians and Moslems was I felt overwhelming. The scene where Luc advises the young girl on love was both amusing and moving and suggestive of the tender ordinariness of the relationships.

Finally the sense of spirituality which suffused the film conveyed often by the silence and immobility became palpable for me and left me with a memory which I am sure will endure.
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on 24 January 2011
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
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on 19 January 2011
I saw this film at the local film theatre. The spiritual journey of the community, from disagreement to unity of purpose, was stunning. The portrayal of their life, both together and within the local Moslem community,was gently unfolded. The sheer love between all concerned was vividly portrayed - and their love of God. It felt like a documentary rather than a drama with actors. It made me want to pray! The final chapter meeting to decide whether to stay or go revealed a depth of love and trust - in both God and each other - was a real revelation. The 'Last Supper' scene was so beautiful and the final scene was more to do with the heavenly journey than earthly death. I would be interested to hear what an atheist made of it. One last comment, as with so many none British/American films, it made me aware of how noisy 'commercial' films are. Watch it at night with everything else switched off - and no breaks for anythhing.
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on 21 January 2011
Xavier Beauvois' slow-burning story of Trappist monks caught up in an existential crisis in 1990s Algeria might not sound like populist material, but it contains universal themes that should strike a chord with any human being: the metaphysical discrepancy between the body and soul; the knowledge of one's own corporeal prison, never capable of achieving the same level of grace as that of a faithful mind.

The form is conservative, shorn of flourish, and the narrative familiar. But you'd have to go back to Black Narcissus to see a similar setting framed with such poise, albeit with more playfulness.

It's impeccably played, particularly by Lambert Wilson as the appointed leader, Christian, and Michael Lonsdale as the world-weary doctor, Luc. Beauvois establishes the sense of serenity and balance beautifully - not only in the simple pleasure of watching people work with their hands, but in the rhythm of Marie-Julie Maille's editing, showing us moments of virtual silence, only to be jarringly shattered by the roar of some engine, or surrendered to a song fairly blared.

With the introduction of fundamentalist terrorists to threaten the village, the film becomes more than a little reminiscent of Roland Joffe's The Mission (minus the melodrama). There is a great scene in which Christian visits a lake to consider the decision to stay or desert the village, and watches a flock of birds take flight. He sees the ease with which they flee.

This is three-dimensional film-making without the glasses. The wordless scene in which Luc enters the dining chamber, slaps on a tape of Swan Lake, and serves wine to his brothers, has a sense of Last Supper significance and mythical profundity. We are observing love and doubt and a million other markers of the human condition. There may be more drama in these few wordless minutes, with the probing camera seeking every twitch in every man's conflicted face, than in all the 3D films yet made.
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on 21 May 2011
Saw this at the Cornerhouse Cinema, Manchester, and immediately came home and advance ordered it, so I could see it again when the DVD became available.

This is a reconstruction of a real event and the responsibility for the killing of the monks has never been solved. It is a moving and tragic set of events and is very relevant to the present day tensions and the way in which extremism is viewed. It is not mainstream cinema because the subject matter requires people to really focus on what they believe and how they should behave in the world and how their behaviour may be interpreted by others. The characters were all excellently portrayed and the way in which they individually wrestled with their fears was inspirational.

Beautifully filmed, a real gem. The extra features on the DVD are well worth viewing too.
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on 25 January 2011
I saw this in its original version in France. Believer or atheist one cannot help but be moved by the dedication of these monks. The 'Last Supper' scene is so moving - I was in tears. Beautiful images of the country too. And I so agree with the reviewer who praises its quietness - a welcome relief from all the distracting and invasive music that so often accomapanies films today - and so fitting for the peace and serenity the monks enjoy in their monastery. Very sad and the more so because it is based on a true story about which there remains much mystery.
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on 27 February 2011
I'm holding off pre-ordering the DVD from amazon UK as I want the film without embedded sub-titles. The French DVD has a selection of language sub-title options. The UK version doesn't indicate whether the subtitles are embedded. Because of that, I'm off to the FNAC. One day, DVD's will be flagged "subtitles embedded" or "sub-titles menu'd". I've been "had" before. Am I the only person who wants the option to add subtitles ?
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on 8 March 2012
This extraordinary movie draws viewers in very gently to the dilemma facing the monks - to stay in a dangerous state or to leave while the going is good. The film gives us a glimpse into the way the monks make their decision. It is very slow, but totally engrossing, as various positions are considered. It also gives a glimpse into the monks' world, their way of life and the work they do, into the way they relate to the people they serve, into the way each is nourished by their faith. The scene with one monk and a young woman as they reflect on love is both moving and profound. When their leader nervously confronts a group of soldiers is both terrifying and revealing. The use of music is amazing - the chants of the monks at prayer (as expected) as well as music from the ballet Swan Lake is heart-achingly beautiful. The final scene is forever etched into my mind, it is so beautifully sad, yet powerfully forgiving. I could not talk highly enough of this amazing, beautiful movie.
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This film is based on the true story of a group of monks during the recent civil war in Algeria. There is a beauty in their devotion to the poverty stricken local residents, whom they serve with warmth and simplicity.

As the real world intrudes on their quiet labor, they must confront some essential questions that could affect their prospects of survival. Should they accept an armed guard from a government with little legitimacy? Should they leave? Should they attempt to build a respectful relationship with the fundamentalist rebels who menacingly visit them? Can they abandon their mission? Their struggle with these questions forms the basis of the film's plot. While slow if you are used to hollywood action, it is completely believable, with every scene pregnant with psychological nuance and internal turmoil.

With subtle elegance, the climax of the film occurs when the monks come to their decision over a meal, together listening to music on a crude cassette player and weeping at their intimacy and commitment to the community. Even though I am not a believer, it brought tears to my eyes to witness the holiness and devotion of these men as they labored in obscurity and accepted their fate.

I saw this in Paris, where it was much discussed as an "event film". The Parisians took this as art that made an important statement and deserved to be viewed seriously and debated. This is an interesting contrast to the film experience elsewhere, whether you think it pretentious or not.

Warmly recommended.
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