February 28, 2011

Of Gods and Men

Enough about the Oscars: let's turn our attention to new cinema.

I cannot wait for the new film about the men in a Monastery in Algeria during the unrest there in the 1990s. The trailer astounded me when I first saw it a year or so ago. It won the best of festival award at Cannes. Now it is finally released here in the US, and the reviews are wonderful.
These are worldly actors playing men at home in two worlds—their Cistercian-Trappist monastery, which, with its working farm, stands on rocky soil in the Atlas mountains; and the tranquil Muslim village they serve. Mr. Wilson's Father Christian, the monastery's prior, studies the Quran along with the Bible. Mr. Lonsdale's aged and asthmatic Father Luc, the village's only physician, not only ministers to the sick but dispenses sage advice to a local girl who wants to know about love. ("It's lots of things," he says, "but you're in turmoil, great turmoil, especially when it's the first time.")

Mr. Beauvois structures his film, like a liturgy, around music—the monks' chants, whose beauty is allowed to sing for itself; no fancy reverb effects, no ethereal voices. When the brothers aren't chanting they are farming, exchanging ideas or attending the prior's teachings, and when they aren't doing any of that, Christian or Luc may be out in the town mingling with their Muslim friends. Until, that is, bloodthirsty fanatics sweep into the region and local authorities urge the monks to return to France for their own safety. Then the issue becomes one of survival versus faith, and the questions deepen as the danger grows. At what point may the shepherd leave the flock? Of what avail is unsung martyrdom?

These are not rhetorical questions for the frightened monks; they must make fateful decisions.
--Joe Morgenstern, WSJ

I'm going to see it as soon as it comes to Washington. Expect a full report.  (Ps. What is that piece of music they use in the trailer? I love it. Someone help me place it!)


  1. It's the second movement (Poco Sostenuto; Vivace) of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7.

    I recently downloaded a torrent of this film...thanks for reminding me to watch it!

  2. And the chanting at the beginning seems to be a French Christmas hymn, with a little editing thrown in :

    Voici la nuit
    L'immense nuit des origines,
    Et rien n'existe hormis l'Amour,
    Hormis l'Amour qui se dessine :
    En séparant le sable et l'eau,
    Dieu préparait comme un berceau,
    La terre où tomberait le feu

    This is the night
    The great night of origins,
    And nothing exists except Love,
    Apart from the Love that is emerging:
    By separating the sand and water,
    God prepared as a cradle,
    The land where the fire fall

    It sounds a little like Gregorian tone 1, but I'm not sure.

  3. I read a recent review (Joe Morgenstern maybe?) which really whetted my appetite for this movie. I'm eager to see it.