*Of Gods and Men (PG-13)
Kimball's Peak Three
One of the great tragedies of modern religion is that while it unites, it also displays a very real power to divide. There's the obvious schism between persons of faith and nonbelievers, but more frequently, it's the divide between people of different faiths that creates conflict.
These days, religion is on the front lines of almost any military endeavor. It takes a brave individual to try to climb the walls and cross the borders we've erected in religion's name.
And yet, that's precisely what Xavier Beauvois elegantly does in his new film, Of Gods and Men, which examines the nature of faith and the sacrifices some people make in its name. But what's most fascinating about the film is that Beauvois is simply telling a story — he's not advocating for anything other than his characters.
Of Gods and Men is based on the account of eight French Catholic monks who served in a poverty-ridden region of Algeria during the '90s. These aren't Bible-thumping, convert-the-heathens monks. They're more of the feed-the-hungry, heal-the-weak, help-the-poor variety.
The group is led by the aptly named Christian (Lambert Wilson), while Luc (Michael Lonsdale) runs the free clinic. The villagers who count on their support are Islamic, but the two groups coexist because of a climate of respect that's refreshing in its openness.
When a group of foreign workers is slaughtered not far from their monastery, the monks suddenly find themselves caught between the Algerian government and Islamic extremists, and both try to exploit these gentle men and the resources at their disposal. Essentially, the monks must decide whether to continue on their mission of peace or leave and greatly increase their life expectancy.
If they leave, they'll be deserting their calling, as well as a community that desperately needs them. And then there's God to think about. These are men who have given their entire lives to their faith, and the idea of running from danger causes a crisis in all of them. The men in this film are both buoyed by and burdened with their faith, which is a fairly unique take on it.
Beauvois has created a fascinating, inspiring story about religion that unfolds through a secular lens. You cannot tell this story without examining faith, and because of that, he spends a great deal of time documenting the monks' rituals and prayers. Early on, it seems slow and odd, but as you understand the film and the characters in greater depth, you see that these ceremonies are intrinsically part of who these men are, and they begin to take on a simple beauty.
Gods provides guidance not for those looking for faith, but for those trying to understand what the faithful believe. And while that's an incredibly challenging proposition, Beauvois pulls it off, creating an emotionally eye-opening experience. The movie isn't about who is right; it's about belief, and you don't have to be a believer to find that fascinating.
Additionally, Gods is emotionally compelling, nicely shot, and both inspiring and depressing, an important film that doesn't set out to be so. Though it didn't receive a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nomination, it's just the sort of thing you need to reaffirm your own faith in cinema.