Of Gods and Men
Of Gods and Men is the austere, beautiful and sometimes hard-to-watch story of French monks in Algeria, threatened with death by the local fundamentalists, who make it clear what their fate will be if they stay. The question of whether to stay or go preoccupies the monks for much of the film. In a way, their eventual choice lifts some of the weight on them, only to open up further troubling questions. We see the monks driven by the selfless and humanistic desire to serve their community, but also by the tempting prospects of a safe return to civilisation, or the more extreme path of martyrdom.
At one point towards the end of the film, the camera pans lingeringly around the faces of all the monks as they drink a rare glass of good red wine and listen to beautiful orchestral music from Tchaikovsky‘s Swan Lake, lost in an aesthetic rather than religious trance; the camera stays too long for comfort, watching their expressions change as they realise the weight and ramifications of their choice. Dwelling on this handful of men and the responsibilities to the community, to each other, to the remains of their families elsewhere, and to posterity, Of Gods and Men provides no easy answers but is itself a partial answer to the question of what goodness really involves.