Movies dealing with religion tend to be quite one-dimensional in their handling of the topic. More often than not it is about their central character dealing with doubt and disappointment as circumstances leave them wondering if their god was as loving and faithful as they had assumed. (cf. Doubt, Gran Torino, A Serious Man, etc.)
Of Gods and Men does not completely shirk that theme, however, it is more interested in the lifestyle of a devoted religious person than seeing their faith stretched to breaking point.
The film focusses on the lives of eight French monks living as missionaries in a village in Algeria. Having developed good relationships with the locals, their way of life is being threatened by Islamic extremists.
Around a third of the way through the movie, the terrorists make contact with the monks. The rest of the film sees the monks having to decide whether to leave Algeria or stay and complete their calling to the community they now call their own.
The film’s greatest strength is in its ability to transport the audience into the world its main characters inhabit. Whether it’s mass, meditation, simplicity, or their conversations, there’s a stillness and peace to everything they do. This gives the film a strangely relaxed tone despite the underlying threat the monks feel.
In choosing to so carefully enter into the spirit of the monastery, Of Gods and Men gives its audience the same sense we get when entering a quiet, holy building. One of respect, wonder and reverence.
During conversations, the camera often holds on an individual’s face, as opposed to trying to fit more than one person into the shot. Opinions are shared one at a time. Each person feeling a sense of worth, and being given a chance to have their voice heard. All of which allows us to see the conviction of each monk in what they’re doing.
Of Gods And Men is a film few will probably see in the cinema, but those that do will be thankful they did. It’s a film which is uncompromising in its depiction of a small community. It’s also a film which must be considered one of this year’s best.