cath news report:
One of the finest religious films, and one of the best Catholic films, in years. No controversy here. The film won the Ecumenical Prize at Cannes 2010. It also won the Grand Prix du Jury from the festival itself.
The subject is the Trappist community of Mt Atlas, Algeria, in the 1990s.
Living their monastic life amongst the local people and ministering to them, especially with medical services, they were viewed more and more with suspicion in the country, especially because they were French expatriates, by government troops who were becoming more active against the increasing terrorist attacks, and by the terrorists themselves.
Seven of the monks were killed in the latter part of May, 1996.
Later, and with stronger evidence emerging in recent years with documentation more open and available, the violence perpetrated by both sides, including the military is now under review. The centre of the film, however, is the life of the monks and their preparation for death.While the film expertly builds up the background of post-colonial Algeria, corrupt government, extreme Islamists imposing something like Taliban terror in the towns and villages, the role of the military is ambiguous.
The director, Xavier Beauvois, shows an instinct for depicting the detail of monastic life with sensitivity and a strong awareness of what it means. His technical advisers have offered expert information which he has absorbed.
The screenplay does not shy away from deep and reflective words which support the visual action. First of all, the words from the scriptures are most apt, especially about two together, one taken, one left, and the text on losing and gaining one’s life.
But, each of the monks is given several opportunities to speak about his vocation and his commitment. This is stronger as the risk situation becomes more dangerous and their lives are threatened.
Perhaps this makes it sound as if the film is offering a sermon rather than a movie story. It is a movie first and foremost and that is how it delivers its message, through story and in words and moving images - Peter Malone, Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Starring Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Rabourdin, Sabrina Ouazani. Written and directed by Xavier Beauvois. MA 15+ (Strong violent scene). 183 mins.