| Eight Cistercian monks from France live quiet lives in a monastery in the Atlas Mountains of Algeria in Northern Africa. They spend their days growing their own food, selling jars of honey at the local market, providing medical care to their Muslim neighbors in the hillside village, and fervently praying.
When a construction crew of Croatian Christians is slaughtered by a band of Islamic fundamentalists, fear sweeps through the region. The government offers military protection, but the monks turn it down, preferring to stay neutral.
Christian (Lambert Wilson from “The Matrix Reloaded” and “The Matrix Revolutions”) is the spokesman for the group. Luc (Michael Lonsdale from “Munich”) is the aging asthmatic physician who runs the medical clinic.
The rebel extremists appear at the monastery on Christmas Eve seeking medical treatment and supplies. They leave peacefully, but the threat of evil becomes more real and immediate.
These religious brothers sit around a table and discuss the threat to their safety on several occasions. The question of whether to stay or leave is put to a vote. Initially, they are deadlocked with two abstaining. Ultimately, they put their faith in God and choose to stay the course as martyrs.
The movie, directed by Xavier Beauvois, proceeds at a slow and deliberate pace, requiring the viewer to have lots of patience. The day-to-day routine becomes repetitive.
Since these devout men wear the same outfits throughout the film, it is hard to discern the passage of time.
The flimsy story fails to delve into the individual backgrounds of the characters. They are presented superficially as a unit and stand as a symbol for what they represent. Their prayer rituals are the most memorable scenes. Audiences will be spiritually moved by the beautiful voices singing the liturgical Gregorian chants.
The cinematography is outstanding, capturing the natural beauty of the surroundings. The film was shot on location at the Tioumliline Monastery in Azrou, Morocco.
The movie is loosely based on the true story of the humanistic mission of the monks of Tibhirine during the Algerian Civil War. There is a historic record of their good deeds from 1993 until 1996. A postscript at the end of the film reveals their ultimate fate.
This was France’s official submission for Best Foreign Language Film at last year’s Academy Awards. It surprisingly failed to make the shortlist of nine nominees. The National Board of Review named it the Best Foreign Language Film of 2010. It premiered at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival and won the Ecumenical Jury Prize.
The dialogue is in French and Arabic with English subtitles. Opening for a limited engagement at AMC Town Center 20, Glenwood Red Bridge and the Tivoli in Westport.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"