Of Gods and Men

Of Gods and Men

Of Gods and Men

Cast: Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale, Olivier Rabourdin, Jean-Marie Frin, Jacques Herlin, Philippe Laudenbach, Xavier Maly, Loïc Pichon
Director: Xavier Beauvois
Rated: MA 15+
Running Time: 123 minutes

Synopsis: Eight French Christian monks live in harmony with their Muslim brothers in a monastery perched in the mountains of North Africa in the 1990s. When a crew of foreign workers are massacred by an Islamic fundamentalist group, fear sweeps though the region. The army offers them protection, but the monks refuse. Should they leave? Despite the growing menace in their midst, they slowly realise that they have no choice but to stay... come what may. This film is loosely based on the life of the Cistercian monks of Tibhirine in Algeria, from 1993 until their kidnapping in 1996.

Release Date: May 26th, 2011
Website: www.sonyclassics.com/ofgodsandmen

In 1996 the kidnapping and murder of the seven French monks of Tibhirine was one of the culminating points of the violence and atrocities in Algeria resulting from the confrontation between the government and extremist terrorist groups that wanted to overthrow it.

The disappearance of the monks - caught in a vice between both sides- had a great and long-lasting effect on the governments, religious communities and international public opinion. The identity of the murderers and the exact circumstances of the monks' deaths remain a mystery to this day.

The case was taken up by a French court in 2003. Certain documents were recently declassified. In the upcoming months, new revelations may finally bring the truth to light.

About the Film
Of Gods and Men is loosely based on the Tibhirine tragedy. It explores the last few months in the life of this small community of Christian monks in a "Muslim land." The film is more interested in capturing the spirit of the events and what was at stake in the community than in recounting the exact details of a historic reality.

The story begins several weeks before the terrorists issued an ultimatum ordering all foreigners to leave the country. An armed terrorist group even broke into the monastery on Christmas Eve.

The monks' dilemma, dormant until that point, is now clear: stay or leave? The decision must be made as a group. But for them, the choice of going or staying, despite the threats, is laden with consequences. When they refuse military protection, the government asks them to return to France.

Each monk will make his decision by assessing the human, political and religious stakes and by plumbing the depths of his soul and conscience. This dramatic tension accompanies the practical and mystical daily life of the community: their deep ties to the villagers and the spirit of peace and charity with which they try to counter the violence eating away at the country.

Of Gods and Men bears witness to the reality of the monks' commitment and the strength of the message of peace they wish to share by staying among their Muslim brothers: the possibility of a fraternal and spiritual common ground between Christianity and Islam.

The monks call the army "the brothers of the plain" and the terrorists "the brothers of the mountain." Far from naïve, they were aware they were walking a fine line between two sides with ambiguous positions.

Xavier Beauvois' film adopts the point of view of the monks and the rhythm of life in a Cistercian monastery.

Monastic Life
Cistercian-Trappists life takes as its source the Bible, the Rule of Saint Benedict (written in the 7th century) and the writings of the fathers of monasticism. It employs traditional forms of monastic prayer. The "liturgy of the hours" is group prayer largely based on the Psalms and performed in a chapel, seven times a day. Song forms an essential part of the prayer and the rhythm of Cistercian life. The monks sing with one voice to enter into communion with the Breath of Life. In unison, they blend together as one in spiritual combat.

Cistercian monks prefer silence, which is the rule, during most of the day. But their life is so built around the teaching of the superior (abbot or prior) and group exchanges known as "chapters." All major decisions are made in their chapterhouse. Always voted on, theyare prefaced by one-to-one discussions in the superior's office. The Cistercian-Trappists have no apostolic mission of evangelization and refrain from all proselytism.

The Rule of Saint Benedict calls upon monks to practice hospitality and sharing, "especially with the poor and foreigners" and those who are suffering. It privileges manual labor and the fostering of relationships with neighbors through farming - vital during periods of insecurity and restriction.

Monasteries are usually isolated from populated areas to favor a contemplative lifestyle amidst nature. Every Trappist monk sets aside one day a month to walk in nature and meditate alone.

Today the Cistercian Order of Strict Observance numbers 2,600 monks and 1,883 nuns, in 96 monasteries and 66 convents the world over.

Important Dates
December 26, 1991
The Front Islamique du Salut (FIS) wins the first round of legislative elections in Algeria.
January 11, 1992
A state of emergency is declared.
January 14, 1992
President Mohammed Boudiaf is assassinated.
October 30, 1993
The Groupe Islamiste Armée (GIA) issues an ultimatum ordering all foreigners to leave the country.
March 26, 1996
An armed group kidnaps the seven monks of Tibhirine: the prior Christian de Chergé (59); fathers Christophe Lebreton (45), Celestin Ringeard (62), Bruno Lemarchand (66); brothers Luc Dochier (82), Paul Favre-Miville (57) and Michael Fleury (52).
April 18, 1996
The GIA claims responsibility for the kidnapping.
May 21 and 23, 1996
The GIA announces the murder of the seven monks after negotiations between the French and Algerian governments yield nothing.
May 30, 1996
The heads of the seven monks are found on a road near Médéa.
September 22, 1997
The massacre of the villagers of Bentalha revives suspicions about the role of the military in kidnappings and murders in Algeria.
1998 Onwards
Decrease in violence and instability in Algeria. Beginning of a policy of national reconciliation.
December 9, 2003
A judicial review in France is requested by the family of one of the monks and an abbot of the Cistercian order, questioning the truth of the official version given by the Algerian government.
September 29, 2005
A referendum endorses the charter of "national reconciliation" proposed by President Bouteflika, granting conditional amnesty to the members of the armed groups in the 1990s and outlawing any debate on that period of Algerian history.
November 20, 2009
Declassification of certain French documents, after the former French Defense Attaché in Algiers affirms that the seven monks were the victims of a mistake make by the Algerian army.