MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Friday, March 1st. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Megan Basham has a review of a French language film that is so much better than what the Academy awarded, she’s certain you’ll be willing to endure the subtitles.
MEGAN BASHAM, FILM CRITIC: One of the biggest winners at last Sunday’s Academy Awards, was the Spanish-language film, Roma. It just missed out on Best Picture, but managed to take home Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Foreign Language Film. I’ll confess that I didn’t find Roma, which was rated R for an extended nude scene, especially compelling. Despite lush and beautiful imagery, we understood so little of the main character’s motivations and interior life, the story felt emotionally empty.
But Roma’s lack of depth brought to mind another foreign language movie the Academy Awards inexplicably chose to overlook a few years ago.
You might be surprised to learn one of the best films in recent years to articulate both the sacrifice and security of life in Christ came out of France, one of the world’s most secular nations. But not only was Of Gods and Men No. 1 at the French box office for three weeks in 2011, it won best picture at the Cesar awards, the French equivalent of the Oscars.
The film is based on events that took place in Algeria between 1993 and 1996. It follows of a group of Cistercian monks as Islamic insurgents ravage the country they have served in for decades. Instead of fleeing back to France and safety, the brothers decide to stay and honor the commission they believe God has given them.
CLIP: [Monks singing]
Rather like the monastic life, the first third of the film moves quietly. We’re absorbed into the ebb and flow of daily Christian service—praying, singing, gardening, ministering, selling honey at the market. Director Xavier Beauvois takes such care depicting the monks’ simple routines that, when the disturbing signs come, they tear through the peace like a knife through a pastoral canvas.
CLIP: [Struggling, yelling, gunfire]
While working in the medical clinic, Brother Luc hears of a woman stabbed on a bus for not wearing a veil. Later, terrified villagers come running to the monastery with reports of terrorists slaughtering Croatian construction workers. These scenes along with brief language earn the film a PG-13 rating. It doesn’t take long before groups of armed men start blocking the roads, executing anyone who doesn’t meet their standard of Muslim piety.
Even when the terrorists are at the abbey door, the order’s leader, Prior Christian, resolves to stay. Other brothers display a more relatable fear as they struggle to discern God’s will. Actually, discern is not quite the right word. They’re really struggling with obedience. This is particularly poignant in the character arc of Brother Cristophe. He begins the story in anger and rebellion. He’s brought to his knees seeking divine comfort, then, having received it, emerges ready to accept the cup he has been given.
Henri Quinson, a monk who knew some of the protagonists, consulted on every aspect of this film. That could be why the insight of a deeply Biblically educated believer seems to touch everything, allowing us to see doctrine in action. Prior Christian argues they should stay for those they serve because “love endures all things.” Brother Luc explains he is not afraid of terrorists because in Christ he has freedom from death. “So make way for the free man,” he says with an exuberance that perfectly captures the joy of salvation.
Despite its violent subject matter, the right audience will recognize Of Gods and Men as a celebratory film, far more concerned with things noble and lovely than savage. In one scene, the brothers share a sort of last supper while listening to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, both sorrow and victory passing over their faces as they savor God’s good gifts. From that haunting image to the holy songs that make up the soundtrack, the movie urges us to set our minds on heavenly things.
MUSIC: [Swan Lake]
I have no doubt that if Of Gods and Men had been an American movie, Christians would have poured into theaters to see it. Don’t let the subtitles scare you off. Few films offer believers a more uplifting and accurate affirmation of their faith. It is far superior to the foreign film the Oscars just awarded.
For WORLD Radio, I’m Megan Basham.