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Of Gods and Men (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

June 27, 2011 by  



This film is a true masterpiece for filmmaker and writer Xavier Beauvois!  Wonderful directing, writing, performances, cinematography and overall, “Of Gods and Men” is magnificent!  Highly recommended!

 

Images courtesy of © 2010 Armada Films, Why Not Productions and France 3 Cinema. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Of Gods and Men (Des hommes et des dieux)

FILM RELEASE DATE: 2010

DURATION: 123 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (2:35:1), French 5.1 DTS-HD MA, Subtitles: English, English SDH

COMPANY: Sony Pictures Classics

RATED: PG-13 (For momentary scene of a startling wartime violence, some disturbing images and brief language)

RELEASE DATE: July 5, 2011

Directed by Xavier Beauvois

Written by Xavier Beauvois, Scenartio by Etienne Comar

Produced by Pascal Caucheteux, Etienne Comar

Cinematography by Carolline Champetier

Edited by Marie-Julie Maille

Casting by Brigitte Moidon

Production Design by Michel Barthelemy

 

Starring:

Lambert Wilson as Christian

Michael Lonsdale as Luc

Olivier Rabourdin as Christophe

Philippe Laudenbach as Celestin

Jacques Herlin as Amedee

Loic Pichon as Jean-Pierre

Xavier Maly as Michel

Jean-Marie Frin as Paul

Abedelhafid Metalsi as Nouredine

Sabrina Ouazani as Rabbia

Abdellah Moundy as Omar

Olivier Perrier as Bruno

Farid Larbi as Ali Fayattia

Adel Bencherif as Le Terroriste

Benhaissa Ahouari as Sidi Larbi

Idriss Karimi as Hadji

Abdellah Chakiri as Le Colonel

Loosely based on the life of the Cistercian monks of Tibhirine in Algeria, from 1993 until their kidnapping in 1996, OF GODS AND MEN tells a story of eight French Christian monks who live in harmony with their Muslim brothers. When a crew of foreign workers is massacred by an Islamic fundamentalist group, fear sweeps through the region. The army offers them protection, but the monks refuse. Should they leave? Despite the growing menace in their mids, they slowly realize that they have no choice but to stay… come what may.

For many years and even now, the kidnapping and assassination of seven Roman Catholic Trappist monks (all of French descent) living at the monastery of Tibhirine in a Muslim area Algeria still remains a mystery.

What is known is that the incident took place during the time of the Algerian War (which lasted from 1991-2002) in which the Algerian government and Islamic rebel groups have been at war and various groups have taken responsibility.  From the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) claiming responsibility for the kidnapping and assassination to retired General Francois Buchwalter, a French military attache, who reported that they were killed in rescue attempt, beheaded in order to place blame on the GIA.

No matter what happened, one thing is fact and that these monks who were murdered remained dedicated to their faith, despite the killing and murders happening around them.  Despite having fear of what may happen to them, instead of leaving, they knew the people living near the monastery needed their help, medical assistance and look to them as a symbol of peace.

In 2006, a film was commissioned by Etienne Comar for the tenth anniversary of the incident and as a Catholic and film producer, Etienne who was fascinated by the monks, felt that their death had overshadowed by what he found interesting, the monks willingness to stay in Algeria despite the rise of hostilities.

And Etienne and filmmaker Xavier Beauvois would work together on the project, researching the material and even Beauvois would live for six days with the monks at Tamie Abbey in Savoie.  And after years of research, the script was sent to the relatives of the deceased monks and each were positive about the depiction of their loved one for the film.

In 2010, the French film “Of Gods and Men” (Des hommes et des dieux) directed and written by Xavier Beauvois (“House of Tolerance”, “Meeting with an Angel”, “The Chameleon”) would create a film focusing on the men and their faith but also focus on the breaking down of relations between the Christians and Muslims and the difficulties of the Monks had faced prior to their murder.  Would they believe in the government authorities or the Muslim rebels?

The focus of the film was authenticity and even the talents who played the monks practiced for a month for professional training of Cistercian and Gregorian chants.  As Beauvois had done at the Tamie Abbey, each actor would also spend a week living with monks and learning the lives of the men.  And each actor would have different perspectives on how they would portray their character and fit that role perfectly.

Filming began in 2009 in Moracco and the film premiered at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival and won the Grand Prix and would later win the Lumiere Award and Cesar Award for Best Film.  The film was critically praised around the world and is noted for its powerful story, acting and the film’s wonderful cinematography.

“Of Gods and Men” takes place in Algeria during the Algerina War where nine Roman Catholic Trappist monks have lived in peace with their Muslim neighbors.   The men live in faith and are led by a monk named Christian (played by Lambert Wilson).

But life for these men changes after Croatian workers are massacred by Islam terrorists.  The monks are warned to leave and while some are scared, some realize their importance of staying and living their lives no differently despite the violence reaching their the area.

One day, terrorists are wounded and demand medical supplies from the monks and also demand the assistance of the monks resident physician Luc (played by Michael Lonsdale).  But because medical supplies are scarce and the monks do not have money (they provide for their own needs), Christian refuses to help the terrorists, which then makes them question the monks of being in the countryside.

This latest confrontation makes the men question their work and as Christian tries to keep the decorum and remind each monk to reflect on their faith, others worry they may be murdered but yet, others also believe that their work as symbols of peace and continue their lives to dedicated to God is what they were set out to do.  That there is deeper meaning as their bond to God, their faith, goes farther than anything beyond their physical realm.

But when the terrorist dump off their injured and are found by the government military leaders, once again, the monks are questioned about their loyalty.  The government wants the army to protect them but the monks know that in order to have peace, they can not choose any side and refuse protection from the military, especially during the time at war and the fact that they also are trying to keep a peaceful relationship with the neighboring Islam people.

But with violence slowly creeping towards them and knowing that they are not safe, will all monks be unified and stay and focus on their faith in God or will they all leave and escape from the evil of the world?

VIDEO:

“Of Gods and Men” is presented in 1080p High Definition (2:35:1).  Picture quality is fantastic!  You can see the detail clearly on the men’s faces.  Wrinkles, stubble, detail of their clothing, you name it…absolute clarity, detailed textures, just a wonderful film that showcases its PQ on Blu-ray.

Colors, especially skin tones are natural, while there is an emphasis at times of blue sand greens, black levels are inky and deep and no sign of any blemishes, scratches, banding, artifacting, etc.  The PQ is absolutely wonderful!

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Of Gods and Men” is presented in French DTS-HD MA 5.1.  The lossless soundtrack is wonderful as you can hear the ambiance of the environments around the monastery.  The birds, the insects, the leaves, the rain, the crowds near the market, you name it.   Dialogue is crystal clear and while there are sound effects such as a helicopter flying above and scenes of gun shots, the film’s strength is its dialogue, the men singing their chants and the ambiance.

Subtitles are presented in English, English SDH.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Of Gods and Men” comes with the following special features:

  • The Sacrificed Tibéhirine: Further Investigation – (18:37) A documentary that revisits the monks and their lives when they were alive, visiting their families and those who knew them.  Presented in standard definition.
  • Merrimack College Augustine Dialogue IX with Author John W. Kiser – (40:50) An discussion between John W. Kiser (author of “The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love and Terror in Algeria” and philosophy professor George Heffernan. Presented in standard definition.
  • Theatrical Trailer – (2:08) The original theatrical trailer of “Of Gods and Men”.

“I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.” – Book of Psalms, Psalm 82:6-7

The following is a spiritual testament made by murdered monk Christian de Cherge if there was an occurrence of him being killed.

It was producer Etienne Comar’s goal to create a film that is not so focused on the deaths of the monks but to showcase their life during the breakdown of government relations, the escalating problems between the government and the Islamic rebels and how the monks were just men who lived in peace but yet were caught in the middle.

These monks were about peace and helping those in need but yet, prior to their deaths, because of the high emotions on both sides of the Algerian war, these men were put in a predicament that as audiences witness, are the men’s belief in their faith but also their emotions of man. The fear of being killed, the fear of not knowing if they should leave or stay but knowing that their presence in the area was important.  They were the symbols of peace and in the end, both sides would claim responsibility for the murder of the monks.

To create a film of faith, writer/director Xavier Beauvois spent years of research and it was his dedication of keeping things looking authentic, becoming authentic is the film’s true efficacy.

The pacing of the film was masterfully done, the mise-en-scene was carefully planned, the cinematography was lush and beautiful but also capturing the monks in various emotional situations, as well as when the darkness had come at times to showcase the murder of the Croatian workers in Algeria to the eventual kidnapping and murder of the monks.

One scene features the monks in a sequence that is fitting of a “Last Supper”, enjoying each other’s company, listening to “Swan Lake”, drinking red wine but as a viewer, you know what is to come.

“Of Gods and Men” is wonderful cinema and perhaps will be Beauvois masterpiece.  It’s a film that showcases the fine balance between cinematography, acting and directing and most of all, a wonderful drama that captures the faith of the monks without focusing too much on what would happen to them.  It’s their dedication for peace even during a time when they know the worst may happen to them.  Showing a human-side that even these men, dedicated to faith, also had fear.  Watching this film, it felt real and accurate and it is no surprise that the film has achieved success.

Overall, “Of Gods and Men” is unique and masterfully done.  Its Blu-ray release is absolutely beautiful and even the audio quality is well-done.   Highly recommended!

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