Archive | December, 2010

Beauty In Contemplation: Des Hommes Et Des Dieux

17 Dec

Religion may have become a dirty word, but Of God’s And Men, which follows a group of Cistercian monks living in fear of Islamic fundamentalists in North Africa, transcends religious differences to take on universal themes of belief and brotherhood.

Details of the real kidnap of the ageing French group from their rudimentary monastery in Algeria in 1996 remain shrouded in mystery. Quite sensibly Director Xavier Beauvois doesn’t pretend to shed light on the whole story. Instead he and his Director of Photography, Caroline Champetier, concentrate on the decisions and the inner turmoil of the members of this religious community in the weeks leading up to their being taken hostage.

The camera shows the unsettling events of a small North African village through the observant and inclusive eyes of the monks. From Islamic village celebrations to the tilling of the land, the Christian brothers are involved in every ritual of their wider community. The images we are shown are presented to us as though directly from the monks : without judgement. As an audience we are not invited to assess the decisions and actions taken by individuals, but rather to realise the futility of such judgement.

Neither is this a story of two sides. The band of mujahideen may be introduced as the Christian monks’ enemies, but it becomes apparent that there is a third, morally dubious, party in the form of a militarised government presence. Different codes of ethics intertwine and clash as each group tries to accommodate the other without losing its own identity.

Religious imagery infuses the whole film. A particularly moving scene with obvious overtones of the Last Supper sees the camera cutting between extreme close-ups of the monks’ faces as they turn from laughter to tears, all set to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

Agnostic myself, Of Gods And Men didn’t endear me to either religion. But it did make me appreciate the aesthetics of asceticism.

Des Hommes Et Des Dieux is in the running for the Grand Prix at Cannes this year.