By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin March 4, 2011 at 5:02AM
One of the best films I’ve seen this year is also one of the most unusual I’ve encountered in a long, long time. While it’s inspired by a true story, it deals with something far less tangible than facts. It’s about faith.Of Gods and Men won the Grand Prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, and some people thought it would be an Oscar nominee as well. Don’t allow that oversight to deter you from seeking it out.
Lambert Wilson plays the elected leader of a group of Trappist monks who live in a rural village in war-torn Algeria during the 1990s. Their life is one of prayer, work, tending their vegetable garden and honeycombs, and service: they help the local Muslim people with their problems and paperwork. Their resident physician, played by that wonderful actor, Michael Lonsdale, tends to the sick—although his own—
—health is far from robust.
But the monks find themselves threatened both by Islamic terrorists and by the Algerian Army, whose officers reject their neutral attitude. The government wants them to leave—but they have their mission, in both senses of the word. To stay may mean death. But it also means reaffirming their faith. Director Xavier Beauvois (who wrote the screenplay with Etienne Comar) manages to convey his characters’ devotion, discipline, and most significantly, their feelings in this deeply moving drama.
I wouldn’t call myself a religious person, but I was stirred by the emotions expressed in this film—and the wonderful performances of its cast. Filmmaker Beauvois chose great faces, as well as great actors, to bring these characters to life, and they manage to convey an enormous amount with very little dialogue. I daresay you won’t soon forget Of Gods and Men.