Film: A Test of Faith

Title: Of Gods and MenDirector: Xavier BeauvoisStarring: Lambert Wilson, Michael LonsdaleRelease Date: December 3rdOf Gods and Men takes on some serious issues – the common ground between Christianity and Islam, the threat of religious fundamentalism and the aftermath of colonialism. It is loosely based on the lives of seven French monks kidnapped and murdered in Algeria in 1996.Directed by Xavier Beauvois, the film was awarded the Grand Prix at Cannes in 2010. Despite its weighty subject matter, the heart of the film lies in its depiction of human characters and the result is an authentic and moving study of people coping with the threat of violence.Brother Christian (Wilson) leads a group of eight French monks living in a remote monastery in North Africa in the 1990s. They live in harmony with the local Muslim population, offering much sought-after medical assistance to the villagers. Their peaceful existence is shattered when Islamic extremists murder a group of Croatians working in the area.The monks are then faced with the choice of fleeing to safety and abandoning the villagers or staying on, despite the danger involved. Eventually, they all decide to remain.Much of the film concerns the monks’ struggle to make their choice and to live with its consequences. They are faced with crises of faith and their very real terror of what may happen. This is dealt with in a restrained and almost minimal way, what drama or violence that occurs is never played for cheap thrills.Rather, throughout the film, the simple and austere lives of the monks set the tone. Shot in a slow, measured pace, the film echoes the monks’ daily rituals. It is pared back to the essentials, largely free of background music or special effects. The result is an honest and stirring portrayal of the monks’ plight. This is complimented by strong, nuanced performances from the ensemble cast.The film is two hours long and the slow pace does get somewhat tedious at times. The film is so tightly controlled that, for the audience, there is no real sense of the tension building anywhere, but rather a feeling of endless waiting. Perhaps though, this is the point, reflecting the situation of the monks. Of Gods and Men is a far cry from standard blockbuster fare. Although it doesn't always make for comfortable viewing, this topical and moving film is definitely worth seeing. In a Nutshell: A powerful study of faith and violence.Alison Sneyd