Best of 2011, number 1: Of Gods and Men | Bleader

Best of 2011, number 1: Of Gods and Men


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Throughout December, Ben Sachs and I will take turns writing about our ten favorite films that had their Chicago premieres this year.

Written and directed by Xavier Beauvois, the stately and moving French drama Of Gods and Men tells the true story of Trappist monks ministering to poor Muslim villagers amid the Algerian civil war of the 1990s. As mujahideen close in on the monastery, targeting its medical supplies and other resources, the holy men confront the horrible possibility of martyrdom but resolve not to desert their flock. "Often, throughout my life, I've wondered how God could act so strangely," says one of the religious texts they hear read aloud at their rustic dinner. "Why does he stay silent so long? Why is faith so bitter?"

Bitter indeed—seven of the monks on which the movie is based were kidnapped, held captive for nearly three months, and finally killed in May 1996. Beauvois reaches deep into the men's hearts, especially in his slow pan across their painful last supper at the monastery: powerfully moved by a radio broadcast of Swan Lake (the first and only music on the soundtrack), the monks sit silently, coming to grips with death. This is the sort of movie that forces you to reevaluate what your life is worth to you and whether you're brave and loving enough to sacrifice it for others.