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3--6 August 2011
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Conflict of gods and men
Contemplation: Michael Lonsdale plays Luc and Sabrina Ouazani plays Rabbia in Of Gods and Men.
THE BIG SCREEN
Although Of Gods and Men is
set in an impoverished vil-
lage, Tibhirine, in Algeria
during the civil war between the
ruling government and Islamist
forces in that country in the 1990s,
the film touches on the universal
concerns of faith, trust, hope, belief
If a film can navigate across an
immense spectrum of meaning
and contemplation, Of Gods and
Men does a reasonable job of it. It
encapsulates the universal to the
A group of Trappist monks, led by
Brother Christian (Lambert Wilson),
a name that resonates significantly
considering the belief systems at
the centre of the civil war, follow a
routine of prayer, growing food and
dispensing medical care as they
negotiate their lives.
They are cocooned by their faith
and belief in the worth of their
assistance to the sick and poor
residents of the village.
They are frail men committed to
their god but in the secular world
they have very little food and no
immediate family apart from their
They rejoice in the taste of wine,
grow what they can and are
devoted to providing what help
they can to the villagers.
Being Christian monks in a Mus-
lim country has not been a huge
issue until the monks are confronted
by the brutality of the Islamist rebels,
who slaughter Serbian workers at
This act immediately confronts
the monks with the option of wheth-
er to stay and continue their work or
abandon the local community to
assure their own safety.
As men of god and caring
human beings they would like to
help any in need with the meagre
supplies they have but they are
pressured from both sides.
Christian refuses to accept the
protection of the military, which
causes consternation among the
monks. They are divided as to
whether they should stay or go.
They are forced to delve into their
souls to uncover their essential
beliefs and why they do what they
do. It cuts to the heart of who they
Their sense of faith is also challen-
ged as they meditate. Only one
monk, Brother Luc (Michael Lons-
dale), the medic, realises he is a
free man, spiritually and physically,
and nothing imposed upon him
externally is of any true conse-
quence. He is at peace.
The Islamist rebels' values are
different to the Monks, yet they are
just as passionate about their
beliefs, both political and faith
There is no right and wrong in this
situation. It depends behind which
set of values you stand as to
whether you are right and the
others are misguided. Despite this,
the monks and the rebels, led by Ali
Fayattia (Farid Larbi), have rea-
ched equilibrium in their accept-
ance of each other.
The scales, however, are made of
sharpened steel and could have
disastrous effects once the equilib-
rium is disturbed.
Eventually all the monks reach
the same decision. They stay. This
decision has major consequences
because neither the government,
military nor rebels supports the
It is more a matter of tolerance.
However, at some stage, we realise
that all parties in the conflict will act
and react to the plight of the monks.
The conflict impacts on the solid-
ity of the monks' isolated lives in
their small community. Their
decision imparts a sense of power
and control to the monks while at
the same moment instilling a feel-
ing of helplessness.
Externally, the monks' true sup-
port comes from the residents of the
community in which they live and
work while internally their belief in
their faith carries them, although
they are practical and realise there
is a strong chance they will end up
with their throats slit.
The monks have developed a
sense of community with the vil-
lagers through ministering to the
villagers' ill health. Through their
isolation from family and fellow
French countrymen, the monks are
challenged to decide individually
and as a collective, the worth of
what they are doing.
meditation upon universal values
as an account of the real life fate of
seven monks in conflict torn Algeria
in the 1990s.
Of Gods and Men shows that
peace and freedom can be allus-
ive and challenged by the flight of
a bullet or the blade of a knife
slicing your artery.
Of Gods and Men (French dia-
logue with English subtitles), rated
MA 15+, screens at Greater Union
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