Xavier Beauvoir’s Of Gods and Men is a beautiful, extraordinary achievement. Understated at all times, highly sophisticated and understanding of its subject, beautifully scripted, it explores the life and death of the Tibhirine Trappist community in Algeria in 1996, during the civil war. The monks live a simple, self-sustaining life of prayer, kindness and service. As the political situation deteriorates, they find themselves caught in a shooting war, driven by Islamist fundamentalists. The army offers protection of a sort, but this raises other questions for the monks - questions of calling and integrity as well as a basic issue about whether life in an armed camp is actually compatible with what they believe their community should be. Do they stay or do they go?
Shrewdly, kindly observed and impeccably acted, this is a tale of tragedy and hope way beyond the scope of Hollywood blockbusters. Very few films about religion reveal as deep an understanding of their subjects as this.. Given our distribution system that gives fifteen screen multiplexes with the same film playing in 10 of them, you are unlikely now to catch the film at a proper cinema, but when it comes out on DVD in May you would be insane not to get it. Five out of five stars.
A couple of additional pieces for reflection. As he contemplated what may happen, the real Brother Christian composed in 1994 a letter to his family in case the worst should happen, that is worthy of careful reflection. Excuse my schoolboy French off the soundttrack album, but here goes:
If a day should come, and it could be today, to fall victim to the terrorism that seems to be engulfing foreigners in this country today, I would love my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and this country and also that the sole Giver of all life was no stranger to such a brutal ending. They should also associate my taking off with so many other equally violent but anonymous deaths. My life is no more valuable than any other, nor less. Anyway, it lacks the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I myself am part of the evil which, sadly, seems to prevail in the world, even the evil that could suddenly befall me. I could not seek such a death, and I could not die happy to see these people, whom I love, indiscriminately blamed for my death. That would be too high a price to pay for what could be called the grace of martyrdom by an Algerian, whoever he may be, above all if he is motivated by what he may believe Islam to be. I know the contempt in which natives of this country are already held around the world. I also know caricatures of the kind of Islam that encourages Islamism. For me this country, and Islam, are something very different. They are body and soul. This is what I have always said publicly, as I believe it and have known and seen this theme in the gospel I learnt in my first Church, at my mother's knee. This I have practised in Algeria, and always from the start in respecting Muslim believers. My death could, plainly, give substance to the arguments of those who think I am just naive, or a starry-eyed idealist. But they need to know that this will finally liberate my most ardent curiosity, in that I may be able, God willing,to submerge my vision in that of the Father, in order to see his Muslim children just as he sees them. In this thank you letter, which says everything about my llife from now on, I want to include you all, friends of yesterday and today, and even you too, friend of my last moments, who will not understand what you are doing. Yes, even for you, I genuinely want to thank you and bid this Adieu, commendation to God, May we one day meet again, in Paradise, as happy thieves, if it pleases God, Father of us both. Amen.
Finally for contemplation, a summary of the teaching of St Paul from Richard Rohr: “Brothers and sisters, remember that your life situation will not last. It is only that which you fall through so that you can fall into your actual Life, and that Big Life ironically includes death (which is the falling).”