Of Gods and Men is based on the true story of a group of French Cistercian Trappist monks caught up in the violent, protracted civil war in Algeria during the 1990s.
French director Xavier Beauvois' film is a story of faith under extreme pressure.
The eight monks of the story live in a village in the Atlas Mountains where their abbey has stood since the mid-19th century. Mostly their lives consist of contemplation, raising bees and praying. They sell their honey at the local market and coexist peacefully with their Muslim neighbors. One of the brothers (Michael Lonsdale) runs a medical clinic, dispensing prescriptions, advice and secondhand clothing to the locals.
A former French colony, Algeria fought a complicated war for independence in the 1950s, and political unrest was common afterward. By the 1990s, religious parties were banned, resulting in insurrection by some Islamic extremist groups.
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While the monks cannot do anything about what happened during the period of colonialism, they dedicate their lives to creating a new bridge. The prior, Christian (Lambert Wilson), spends much of his time learning the Quran as he tries to show he's a friend to Algerians. But as Europeans, the monks are still the target of anger by many in the country.
When Croatian highway workers are killed as militants drive to rid Algeria of anyone they consider infidels, local authorities try to persuade the monks to abandon the abbey. Several are tempted to leave, and some of the most dramatic moments in the film are of them debating what they should do.
While Beauvois finds beauty in the monks' lives, he does not try to make them out to be saints. Instead he tries to find a balance between their beliefs and who they are as men.
Of Gods and Men is a beautiful film and provides food for thought, especially in light of these turbulent times in the Muslim world. The DVD includes a documentary about the real events. Of Gods and Men retails for $45.99 Blu-ray combo.