Of Gods and Men
Last night I sat, entranced and transfixed, by the most wonderful film I've seen this year. Yes, I know, it's only the second day of 2012, but I am willing to wager that in 363 days time I'll still think it was the most wonderful film of my year.
The film was Of Gods and Men, a 2010 French film (and winner of the Cannes Grand Jury Prize*) about a group of seven monks living in in a monastery in Tunisia in the mid-1990s when islamic fundamentalism began to rear its head. The film is based on real events, although how much of the characterisation is true, I don't know.
I remember hearing about massacres and kidnappings in north Africa during this period and having shivers run through me. "I'd want to get out of there as soon as I could," I thought. And yet, this film is really about the monks' collective decision to stay and face certain death. It's about leadership, about martyrdom, about faith, about guilt, about life and about death. It's about conscience and decision-making, and home and calling and what those things mean. It's about friendship and the strength you can find in a shared faith and community.
I have to say this: it is a s-l-o-w film. It reflects both the pace of life of the monks and of rural Tunisia. But it is beautiful. And just like a beef stew cooked in a slow cooker brings a tenderness and richness of flavour to the dinner table, this film is richer, more tender and more beautiful because of its pace.
My favourite scene was their 'last supper', where they eat while listening to the soaring musical theme from Swan Lake, laughing because of their friendship and choices, and then crying because they know that soon their lives will be over.
Of Gods and Men was, for me, cleansing, challenging, astounding, comforting and inspiring.
*I know, I'm a little out of date here...