Monday, 7 February 2011

of gods and men (d. xavier beauvois; w. beauvois & comar)

The more you like the premise the more likely you are to be disappointed. I think that's the conclusion I came to in discussion with Mr Mahey this week, with particular regard to the work of Dos Santos.

The premise of this film is a bunch of Christian monks (lead by a man called Christian) who live in the Atlas mountains of Algeria at a time when violent Muslim extremism is on the rise. Which made me think of Pamuk, for a start. Particularly in the engaging opening scenes where the monks are seen co-existing with the Muslim village, and Christian has a copy of the Koran on his desk alongside the saying of Francis of Assisi. I thought at this point that Beauvois was about to deliver the film which no-one seems interested or capable of making, one which explored not just the fault lines between Christian and Muslim communities, but the points they have in common. Where better to set this film than in the mountains of North Africa?

Then the villagers dropped out of the story and the Muslims were relegated to terrorists and the brutal army, menacing the monks in vespers with their noisy helicopters. I reassessed, and tried to re-read the film as a study of the devotional life and sense of duty. Christian takes walks by the beautiful lake as he wrestles with his destiny. But the army and the terrorists kept popping up to interrupt the peace. In the end, the film turns into a thriller. Will they survive or not? If so, who will survive? And how? It's the Towering Inferno in extremist Algeria.

A little bit of this and a little bit of that. A recipe for art-house success, without doubt. A superb premise which has gone down out a storm. I loved the premise. And was then disappointed by the film itself.

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