Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Branch and the Birds

My prayer group recently watched a movie that really inspired contemplation. In English (the movie is subtitled), the title is Of Gods and Men. (If you are interested, you can watch the trailer.) In French, the original language, which I read and understand, the title is "Des hommes et des dieux" (Of Men and Gods). For some reason, I like the original title better. It is one of those rare movies that when it is over, no one has anything to say. You simply sit, reflect, and then depart, left to your own contemplation. I met one member of our prayer group the following day at noon Mass (happened to have a day off for some reason I don't recall now), and she told me that she was still in contemplation as a result of the effect of the movie on her.

Here is the description of the movie from the Amazon website:
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 midst, they slowly realize that they have no choice but to stay... come what may.
And here is a review that pretty much says all that I would say.

The monks at the Trappist monastery in Algeria seem almost to exist outside of time, so it may be a while before we recognize the 1990s as the setting for Of Gods and Men. And old traditions cannot escape new warfare in this stirring movie, based on a true story that happened at a remote enclave of peaceful, studious priests. These Christian monks minister to the largely Muslim (and very poor) villagers in their vicinity, a balance that is threatened by Algeria's Civil War. When nearby radical-Islamist insurgents begin killing foreigners, the monks must face a choice. Will they flee to safety--a perfectly rational and understandable decision that will leave the villagers without their only source of health care--or will they stay on, secure in their spiritual calling despite the possibility of abduction or murder? Director Xavier Beauvois makes an absorbing film from this question, and it's not at all difficult to understand why it became an unexpected box-office smash in France (and ended up winning the Cesar award for best film of 2010). The film is beautifully cast, and sometimes Beauvois simply trains his camera on the lined, weathered faces of his priests, as though allowing those lines to tell the story. Heading the cast is Lambert Wilson (of Matrix fame), who leads his men with an almost regal bearing, and veteran actor Michael Lonsdale, who quietly inhabits the role of the physician in the group. The film takes time out for quiet contemplation, as though understanding that the priests' suspenseful situation is only half the story. The wordless climax, which allows the men to be animated by the earthly pleasures of wine and Tchaikovsky, is something of a spiritual journey of acceptance all on its own. It's a moment you'll find very difficult to forget. --Robert Horton
The title of this post is in my opinion the core of the film's message. If you watch the movie or have watched it, you will see (or already know) the source of that phrase. I won't spoil it for anyone through explanation.


Comments welcomed from those who have seen it.


  1. Elizabeth, I loved this movie (much more than the other that made the rounds a couple of years ago that simply followed monks around with their daily routine, I've forgotten the name of that one). I remember hearing of the incident years ago and wondering what their conversations were like in the midst of such disaster.

    "Romero" has stayed with me in the same way.