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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Movie Review: Des Hommes et des Dieux, or Of Gods and Men

Des Hommes et des Dieux
Released in English as Of Gods and Men

Released in May, 2010

"Die Grosse Stille
meets To Quell the Terror meets Charles de Foucauld"

I went to see this movie on the Solemnity of St. Joseph because one of my children wanted to see it with some friends. The movie had a limited engagement in Dallas, and we did not want to have him see it without screening it first. So, I found myself sitting in a darkened theatre during Lent quite against my will, and I really enjoyed what I saw.

Parental guidance: This movie has one graphic violence scene, and various corpses litter the screen at times, but nobody gets naked in this movie. There is one scene where a monk, totally out of character, says the F-bomb to another monk. Other than that inappropriate scene, the movie was excellent.

Des Hommes et des Dieux was released last May, and was released in English as Of Gods and Men - The title comes from Psalm 82, verses 6-7:

"I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes."

The movie is about the seven monks of the Trappist monastery in Tibhirine, Algeria, who were beheaded in 1996. There is still some question as to who killed the monks, and the movie does not clear up that question. Algeria was torn by a civil war at the time, and the monastery found itself in the middle of the conflict. The monks saw the sick in their infirmary and sold produce in the local market. They got along very well with the local population, which was predominantly Moslem. As the conflict got closer, rebels started to 'visit' them for supplies and medical assistance. This brought the monks under scrutiny as possible rebel sympathizers by the military. They were ordered out of the country by the government of Algeria. The movie examines the monk's reasons to stay in the country despite the increased risk to their lives.

The movie reminded me of Die Grosse Stille because it used the same film techniques, and would sometimes linger on the monks praying, chanting, or performing some mundane task in the monastery. I think this was done to show how the monks kept up with their daily routine, relying on Divine Providence to see them through the conflict.

To Quell the Terror came to mind when one considers that the monks all decided to stay rather than abandon their vocation to pray and work in Algeria. I was struck by the actors who showed how their characters really wrestled with the decision to stay, and how they were still afraid at what might happen. These were real people, not fictitious religious who laughed at the possibility of martyrdom. Near the end of the movie, after celebrating Mass, the monks share their Sunday meal and a bottle of wine while listening to Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake. The emotions displayed by the monks, as they realize that this may be their last meal together, was heart-wrenching. I was reminded of the chocolate which the Mother Superior got for her nuns so they would have the strength to make it to the guillotine.

I was reminded of Blessed Charles de Foucauld because of his dedication to the Muslim people, his failure at converting any of them, and how he ended up being martyred by them. In addition, I am always reminded of the prayer he wrote, and I was given when I was a lot younger than I am now:

My Father,
I abandon myself to you.
Make of me what you will.

Whatever you make of me,
I thank you.
I am ready for everything
I accept everything.

Provided that your will be done in me,
In all your creatures.
I desire nothing else, Lord.

I put my soul into your hands,
I give it to you, Lord,
With all the love in my heart,
Because I love you,
And because it is for me a need of love
To give myself,
To put myself in your hands unreservedly,
With infinite trust.

For You are my Father.

The movie is in French, with English subtitles. The two 'stars' of the movie, Lambert Wilson and Michael Lonsdale, have previously played in English-speaking movies as villains. It was neat to see them speaking their native language, and being good guys this time.

In one scene, the monks are eating their meal in the refectory, and it looks as if the only thing they are eating is 'French Fries.' It made me wonder what they call sliced pieces of potato....

I also wondered about the monks. Most were old men, and it reminded me to pray for more vocations to the priesthood and religious.

Now for a trailer or two:

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Lead me away from all occasions of sin.
Guide me in fulfilling your last words in the Gospel,
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