As 2010 comes, slowly, to a close, the films which will undoubtedly dominate the 2011 award season come rolling out, in abundance. Already praised heavily at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, picking up the coveted Grand Prix and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, does Xavier Beauvois' latest film - in the director's chair - live up to the hype?
Based on a true story, the film centres around the monastery of Tibhirine where Trappist monks live in harmony with a, largely, Muslim population in Algeria. When Muslim extremists invade the village and the threaten the monks' way of life the story tells the remarkable tale of these men and how they defied their home country and the wishes of the Algerian government to stay on and fulfil their admirable work.
What made Of Gods and Men such an, at times, beautiful and, regrettably, very tragic tale was, despite being drowned in rather profound Christian and Muslim parables, the heart-warming and humbling performances from its wonderfully constructed ensemble. Lambert Wilson (of The Matrix 2 and 3 fame) gave a triumphant portrayal as the head of the monastery, Brother Christian. A strong and reasonable leader with a warm heart and a respect for his fellow man.
Michael Lonsdale's (mainstream audiences might know him from his appearance in Spielberg's Munich) performance was particularly moving as the wise and knowing Brother Luc, also acting as the physician of the local community and seemingly involved in some of the film's most powerful scenes. Various moments including being, in a way, the architect of the only scene to involve actual music and close-ups of the main cast as they share a final meal with wine, and the face up to the painful realisation of their inevitable fate.
The film's overall theme was highlighted brilliantly in one particular scene involving Wilson and one of the Muslim extremists as the walls of religious persecution break down and the similarities within The Bible and The Qur'an come to the forefront. The collective chants/hymns between monks served as rather haunting transitions between acts and gave intriguing insight into their way of living, usually to the backdrop of some stunning cinematography.
The ending - which anyone in tune with their history and world affairs will undoubtedly know - is dragged out to a sad conclusion, more so, because by the time you leave the cinema, you feel you've gotten to know these kind and honest men and care dearly for them. The slow and silent walk to their doom doesn't make for easy watching, being one of the few films of 2010 to make me shed a slight tear.
A very powerful and provocative drama dissecting the more positive and perhaps idealistic aspects of the Christian faith. Regardless of where you stand on the topic of religion, its hard not to love and respect the characters on display, their undeniably platonic love and respect for each other as well as highlighting their humanistic flaws, doubts and uncertainties. A cinematic treat, and sure to be in the running for Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars next year.
Of Gods and Men is in selected cinemas through the United Kingdom now.