Screened at the Cannes Film Festival, Xavier Beauvois' Des hommes et des dieux / Of Gods and Men, starring Lambert Wilson (above, left) and Michael Lonsdale, tackles the gruesome, real-life horror story set in 1996 Algeria, when seven French monks were beheaded by Islamic militants. Or were they?
In 1992, when it became clear that Algerian voters were going to elect Islamic candidates, the army intervened so as to save the country's “democracy” – by destroying it. A civil war between the two groups ensued, leaving more than 200,000 dead in that country of 27 million. The rest of world, as usual, mostly looked away.
Whole villages were massacred during that time – by either side, with one group blaming the other – but more than anything, what caught the attention of the rest of the world was the plight of the seven Christian Europeans caught in the Muslim crossfire.
Instead of focusing on the politics behind the kidnapping and murder of the French monks, Beauvois' chief concern according to reviewers is on the monks' own inner struggles. In fact, despite its horror-movie setting, the Toronto Star's Peter Howell has called Of Gods and Men “a beautifully acted and directed work of uplift and inspiration.” (Kirk Honeycutt of The Hollywood Reporter was much less enthusiastic, calling the film “ponderous.”)
“What interested me was the story of these men, who they were, and the rest, well, we don't really know,” Beauvois remarked in a news conference. The director, who co-wrote Of Gods and Men with Etienne Comar, added that he personally believed that their deaths were the result of a blunder by the Algerian military.
“The monks insisted on being extremely neutral, on not taking sides,” Comar told the press. “They called the terrorists 'the brothers from the mountain' and called the people from the army 'the brothers from the plain.' … It seems totally coherent for the movie to adopt their point of view.”
Of Gods and Men was shot in Morocco, though Beauvois asserted that decision had nothing to do with security reasons.
Quotes: The Associated Press
Photo: Cannes Film Festival