A tale which emphasises both the importance and the consequences of standing up for what you believe in, ‘Of Gods and Men’ is a story that’s worthy of the telling, even if it does take a little too long to tell it.
This true-life story takes place in Algeria in the mid 1990s, largely focusing on the lives of a group of Cistercian Trappist monks who live in the Tibhirine monastery on the outskirts of a town populated by a Muslim community. We see the monks as very much part of life in the town, attending celebrations and providing medical services to the locals. But there is much unrest in the area, evident when Islamic fundamentalists savagely murder migrant workers.
Faced with the threat of terrorism and advised by the government to return home to France or accept protection within their monastery, the monks must face a tough decision, abandon the community that has welcomed them or risk their own lives in sticking with their mission.
There is some terrific acting on display here, as the monks each wrestle with their consciences and eventually define themselves as part of the collective, with a common mission. You really feel the weight of their decision and the fear that cripples them as they attempt to weather the storm.
It’s a shame then that there is a bit too much setting of the scene here. Too many silent shots of the monks praying and going about their daily lives only serve to slow down the pace of the movie and diminish the unsettling undertones that exist throughout the story, giving the plot less of a sense of urgency.
However, ‘Of Gods and Men’, under Xavier Beauvois’ skilled direction, remains moving in its depiction of the fate of these brothers.