Sunday, August 19, 2012

Of Gods and Men

Bravery is tough to quantify. It's easy in Hollywood movies, where a man in a vest will wipe out a tower block full of terrorists, but in real life courage is a much more subtle thing to define.

Of Gods and Men (Des hommes et des dieux) is based on true events. A group of Trappist monks stationed in an impoverished Algerian village must decide whether to stay and stand behind what they believe in or leave and be safe when terrorists start to exert pressure upon them.

It's a slow, almost ponderous film, but at the same time it's utterly gripping. Over the two hours plus running time we get to know the monks as individuals, and even begin to understand a little of what was going on at ground level during the Algerian Civil War. There's no onscreen violence, nobody is physically threatened, but as the film progresses we begin to fear more and more for the lives of these simple monks.

It's an astonishing piece of work. Beautifully shot, brilliantly written, and with some sublime performances from the leads. It's rare that a film can captivate me as much as this one; I didn't want it to end.

But when the ending comes, it leaves you feeling both sad and uplifted. These men - these real life heroes, for want of a better word - stood their ground and fought quietly, humbly for what they believed in. They demonstrated a commitment to a lifestyle that is difficult for most of us to understand and they asked nothing in return for their sacrifice.

Afterwards I watched a documentary that formed part of the DVD Extras, and found out what actually happened to the monks (a detail the film leaves out). It's horrifying, and if I can find one flaw in the film it's that it pulled its punches: we should have been shown their fate, if only to demonstrate the ultimate price of their commintment.

See this film. Remember the heroism of these men.

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