True story tests faith

  • May. 25, 2011 10:00 a.m.
Trappist monks in an Algerian monastery must decide whether to leave their surroundings or live with the threat of Islamic extremism in Of Gods and Men.

Trappist monks in an Algerian monastery must decide whether to leave their surroundings or live with the threat of Islamic extremism in Of Gods and Men.

Of Gods and Men, the Grand Jury winner at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, will be shown by the Vernon Film Society Monday.

Based on a true story, the film follows French Cistercian monks living in the Atlas mountains of Algeria who were abducted from their monastery in 1996 by the GIA (Armed Islamic Group).

The movie begins by showing the routine of the eight monks as they go about their day-to-day life in the austere monastery.

One is a doctor who holds daily clinics for local villagers, others work in the garden, help local people and bottle the honey they sell in the market. Their elected leader, Brother Christian, a 50-ish intellectual is portrayed writing and studying his books.

The monks mix easily with the Arab population and live a quiet life of contemplation and service until a group of Croatians working on a construction project is massacred by terrorists. The escalating unrest builds and the monks are offered protection, which they feel they cannot take as they do not wish to be seen as siding with the government against the Islamists.

The situation leads the monks to question their lives, faith and relationship to God. The audience gets to know them more as individuals dealing with a difficult problem as they discuss whether to stay or leave.

On Christmas Eve some Islamists come seeking medical help for their wounded. Brother Christian quotes the Qur’an about the relationship between Muslims and Christians and they come to a guarded mutual respect for one another.

The monks resolve to stay while French officials try and counsel them to leave, and after a number of moving scenes of the monks celebrating their faith, the inevitable hostage taking happens.

Philip French, movie critic of The London Observer newspaper writes: “Of Gods and Men is a profound, immaculately acted movie. Its words are carefully considered, its images eloquent. The subject matter is urgently topical, the themes raised eternal and universal.”

Of Gods and Men screens at the Towne Cinema, Monday at 5:15 and 7:45 p.m. All tickets are $7, available at the door and one week prior at the theatre and the Bean Scene.