‘Of Gods and Men’ screening, discussion
Rockland — The public is invited to a free film and discussion of “Of Gods and Men,” a 2010 French drama film directed by Xavier Beauvois and starring Lambert Wilson and Michael Lonsdale, Wednesday, Oct. 2, from 6 to 9 p.m. at St. Peter’s Church, 11 White St.
This deeply moving film is loosely based on the life of Cistercian monks living in Algeria from 1993 until their kidnapping by terrorists in 1996. During this period, the country was in the midst of a gruesome civil between the government — which declared martial law after annulling elections it appeared to have lost — and a ruthless Islamist insurgency.
In the film, eight French Christian monks led by Christian, their prior, are living in harmony with their Muslim brothers in a monastery perched in the mountains. When a crew of foreign workers is massacred by an Islamic fundamentalist group, fear sweeps though the region. The army offers them protection, but the monks refuse. As the violence escalates, they discuss whether they should desert the community where they serve or remain in the face of increasing danger and hostility. Despite the growing menace in their midst, they come to the realization they must serve where they are.
From the beginning the film is embued with a sense of the monks’ devotion to contemplation, service and humility. The actual man Christian is modeled on came from a distinguished military family and served in the French Army during the Algerian War, then decided to stay in Algeria after taking his vows. An account of his life and the fate of his abbey can be found in “The Monks of Tibhirine,” a 2002 book by John Kiser.) As the film progresses, each of the eight brothers is revealed as a deeply caring and convicted Christian. But the film does not treat these men as saints or as mouthpieces for any particular theology; instead, it suggests that the relationship between “gods and men” is a complex mystery.
The film, a big hit in France when it was released in 2010, was the French submission for the foreign-language Academy Award, though it was not among the five nominees for that year. In place of a traditional soundtrack, most of the music comes from the monks’ chanted prayers and the cries of the muezzins at nearby mosques. The notable exception — the only time recorded, secular music is heard — comes during a meal, when the residents of the abbey sit and listen to a famous passage from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake” and lose themselves in aesthetic reverie, suggesting that even in violent times, and in lives of restraint and self-denial, there is a place for beauty, feelings and art.
The screening is part of a monthly film discussion series St. Peter’s Episcopal Church offers the community. Participants are encouraged to bring a snack or light supper to eat during the film; coffee will be available. St. Peter’s is the red-shingled church adjacent to Rockland Public Library and the Rec Center.
Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115; or email@example.com.