Des hommes et des dieux (Of Gods and Men) (2010) 

 

 

 

Director:     Xavier Beauvois.

Starring:     Lambert Wilson (Christian),  Michael Lonsdale (Luc),  Olivier Rabourdin (Christophe),  Philippe Laudenbach (Célestin),  Jacques Herlin (Amédée),  Loïc Pichon (Jean-Pierre),  Xavier Maly (Michel),  Jean-Marie Frin (Paul),  Abdelhafid Metalsi (Nouredine),  Sabrina Ouazani (Rabbia),   Abdellah Moundy (Omar)Olivier Perrier (Bruno),  Farid Larbi (Ali Fayattia),  Adel Bencherif (Le terroriste),  Benhaïssa Ahouari (Sidi Larbi).

tragedy of 8 French Christian monks caught in the religious violence in Algeria who have to decide whether to leave or stay in the impoverished village

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

From the Bible, Psalm 81.  I said: "You are gods, sons of the Most High.   But you shall die like men and fall like princes."

Seven Christian monks sing together in the chapel. 

Not too far from the church is a run-down, poor Algerian neighborhood.  A young man walks out of his house and then up a big staircase.  The young man comes into the courtyard of the monastery and says hello to Brother Luc.  He tells Brother Luc that Saturday is Jamel's khtana (circumcision) party.  He invites Brother Luc to the party.  Luc says he will be there. 

The young man walks outside and sees a lot of people lined up along the wall waiting for medical treatment.

Brother Luc treats a little girl for a skin problem on her forehead.  The mother and the girl need shoes also.  So Luc goes in behind a screen and gets new shoes for both of them.  The Brothers go about their various daily duties.  One rings a rather quiet church bell, another writes something while looking up passages in the Koran, another waters the plants in the garden and still another closes the lids on a lot of open bins. 

In the neighborhood it looks like the party has already started.  There is music, drumming and the sound of women ululating.  Several of the Christian brothers are at the party.  A prayer is sung for the men.  The women are in a separate room with things to snack on.  They talk with each other. 

Some of the brothers stay at the monastery to bottle up honey and clean the hallways.  The brothers sell the products they bottle up. 

A young woman asks Brother Luc how does one know when they are in love?  He says that one gets a special feeling inside and the heart starts beating faster.  He adds that often, especially for the first love, one is in turmoil.  Luc tells the young woman that her father spoke to him about Khaled.  She says that when she sees Khaled she doesn't feel any of those characteristics of being in love.  She says:  "My father wants it, not me."

One of the brothers helps a woman fill out a form for a passport to see her son in France.  She needs two photos.  She will go with the brothers when they go to market and there the woman can have two photos made of her. 

Brother Luc and Brother Christian visit two Algerian men in their home.  The older man says that they killed her granddaughter, 18 year old Samira.  They stabbed her right in the heart while she was on a bus.  Then they threw her body out like she was a dog.  And this was all because she wore the veil, the hijab.  They are also killing imams.  Yesterday they killed one in the street.  Brother Christian says that the priests will say a prayer for Samira. 

Four cars come driving up to a group of Croatian workers.  Men with automatic weapons get out of the car and start attacking the workers.  One man is killed with a burst of fire.  A stranger is there and one of the attackers tells him at the point of his gun that he better get lost right now.  Another man has his throat slit.  Then another man dies from having his throat slit.

There is a group of Algerian adults arguing in the middle of a street in the neighborhood.  The young woman who asked what love is  breaks away from the group and comes running up the steps to the monastery.  Two men run up to Brother Christian to say:  "They killed the Croatians!" 

The chief of police in a business suit tells Brother Christian that he and the other brothers are going to need military protection.   Christian replies:  "That is not an option."  The suited man says there will be other atrocities in the area.  Christian walks away from the fellow. 

Eight brothers get together to discuss the matter of protection.  A brother asks Christian:  "How could you decide this without consulting us?  All our lives are at stake."  Christians asks his comrades:  "Who wants the army present in the monastery?"  Another brother says:  "I didn't come here to commit collective suicide."

All the gates are locked and barred at 7:30 p.m.

The next day a brother says that the roads are blocked so he won't be going to Meznir today. 

The work of the brothers continues.  Brother Christian tells someone on the phone that Christmas is only a week away. 

Gunmen enter the monastery courtyard.  They ask a brother if he is the Pope?  No.  Who is the leader?  Brother Christian.  The leader of the group, Ali Fayattia, starts shouting out for Christian.  Brother Christian and two other brothers come out to talk.  The leader of the Muslims says that the brother doctor must come with them for they have three wounded men an hour away.  Christian tells the leader that their doctor is old and weak and has asthma.  So the leaders tells Christian to give them medical supplies.  Christian says they treat 100 patients a day here and don't have any supplies to spare.  So the leader decides to search elsewhere for medical help. 

Now the brothers meet together again.  Brother Célestin says:  "Maybe we should leave.  Or at least take refuge in a safer place."  Brother Paul says that there's another possible solution:  leave this place for good.  Another brother replies:  "To leave is to run away and to leave the village to the terrorists."  Jean-Pierre votes for staying.  Paul votes for leaving.  Célestin also wants to leave.  Luc will stay.  Michel says he will stay.  The oldest brother Amédée says he does not know yet.  Another brother, Christophe, says he wants to leave.  And Christian?  He says:  "I agree with Amédée.  It's too early to decide."   The vote was three for staying, three for leaving, and two for it's too early to decide. 

Christian goes for a long walk.  He sits down by a lake.  Back at the monastery he writes a letter. 

Christian and another brother go in to see the chief of police.  The chief tells them:  "Yesterday two women teachers were found murdered."  Their "crime" was to tell teenagers that falling in love is normal and they are allowed to fall in love.  A 15 year-old girl tipped off the extremists.  He then gives to Christian a letter from the Ministry of the Interior.  The Ministry is telling the brothers to leave, but Christian says only the brothers themselves can decide if they will leave or stay.  The chief says he's tired of all their stubbornness.  The villagers here are scared and would leave this place if they had some money.

The chief throws a newspaper in front of the two brothers.  The headline is:  "Terror Strikes Djelfa."  The brothers just stare at the chief.  So, now the chief asks the brother to please return to France. 

On the road the brothers' car breaks down.  A group of women comes walking along the road.  They stop to speak with the two brothers.  While talking, Christian tries to start the engine and succeeds.  The women now continue their journey. 

Christian and two other brothers go back to speak with some villagers they talked to before.  The villagers don't want the brothers to leave.  They feel they have more security from harm if the brothers remain.  The woman says the villagers are like birds sitting on a branch and the branch is the brothers and the monastery.  If the brothers leave, the villagers will loose their footing. 

Two brothers see a road checkpoint and have to slow their driving speed down.  As they pass by the soldiers, on an embankment they see a dead man's body all covered with blood.  This bothers brother Christophe, who was one of the brothers who wanted to leave.  Now he is even more scared about staying.  Back at the monastery at night the other brothers can hear this brother saying:  "Help me, help me.  Don't abandon me." 

A wounded rebel is brought into the monastery.  All the patients waiting for Brother Luc leave.  Brother gives the fellow three shots: an antibiotic, a tetanus shot and a tranquilizer. 

Luc tells Christian that he is just worn out.  He says now the number seeking treatment is about 150 a day. 

Brother Christian goes over to the government military base.  The officer there wants Christian to identify the body they have.  Before the man died, he told the soldiers that his name was Fayattia.  This Fayattia was known to be a torturer.  Christian identifies the body as that of Fayattia. 

Christophe tells Christian that he doesn't sleep well at night.  In his mind he keeps mulling over the decisions and choices he made in his life.  He asks Christian if he dies here and now, does it serve a purpose?  He also asks why be martyrs?  Christian says:  "We're martyrs out of love, out of fidelity."

Christian reports that a female French journalist really wants to do a story on the brothers.  One of the brothers says they don't need the notoriety.  Christian takes another vote on staying or leaving.  This time the vote is unanimous.  It's the full eight brothers that are staying.  

Soldiers come to the monastery with their automatic weapons.  They check everybody found in and around the monastery.  They find nothing out of the ordinary and get back in their trucks and leave. 

A helicopter flies over the village and then the monastery.  The helicopter keeps circling the monastery.  Then suddenly it leaves. 

The brothers have a visitor named Brother Bruno.  Everybody knows him and vice-versa.  

The brothers have their dinner.  Afterwards they drink wine and listen to some classical music.  Then they go to sleep.

Gunmen arrive at the monastery.  They go after the medical supplies first.  They start getting the brothers up and bring them to a central point.  They are all put in the back of a truck.  The terrorists now leave the grounds.  One of the brothers, the oldest of them, Amédée, escapes the terrorists by hiding under the bed.  He goes outside and is greeted by another brother who also survived. 

The brothers are in a cell now.  Each of them have to say their name.  Luc says his name and then says he has been taken hostage with my colleagues by the Jama Islamiyya.  Christian has to read a statement.  " . . . the Mujahideen read us the bayan of the Jama Islamiyya Moussalaha.  It is signed by Abu Abderrahamane Amine.  It says we're being held hostage and demands that the French government free hostages belonging to their group in exchange for our liberation.  This exchange in  non-negotiable."

The brothers are made to walk uphill in the snow.  Their guards follow them. 

Christian, Luc, Christophe, Celestin, Paul, Michel and Bruno were killed on May 21, 1996.  The identity of their murderers and the circumstances of their deaths remain a mystery.  Amédée died on July 27. 2008.  Jean-Pierre is still alive.  He is now 86. 

 

 

Good film.  The nine brothers living in a small village in Algeria are deeply committed to their religious beliefs, their religious duties and the Algerian village.  The civil war raging on in Algeria, however, threatens the very lives of the brothers.  In one sense the brothers decide to be martyrs, but this decision is not done out of fear, but out of their great appreciation for their monastery and to each other and out of a sense that if they left, the village and the villagers would be more subject to attack.  At first, three of the eight brothers wanted the monastery to be established somewhere else and two are undecided.  Over time the brothers mull over their ideas.  In one sense, despite the threat of violence, the brothers become even more committed to their monastery and the villagers and their faith in God.   They didn't want to and they didn't seek to become martyrs.  They rededicated themselves to their faith, to their religion, to each other and to the community that they served.  The film is a testament to the seven out of nine brothers (one brother had just recently arrived at the monastery) who became martyrs because of their beliefs and commitments.  There are a lot of people who are not enthused about Christian missionaries abroad, and this is especially true in predominantly Muslim countries, but judging from the film there are a lot of missionaries who are very committed to their faith above all else and will stand against being forced out by regional bullies, despite the risk to their lives.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 


Historical Background:

 

 

The Algerian Civil War was a conflict in Algeria, starting in 1991 and continuing to a diminished extent up to the present.

From the special features section of the DVD:  The monks in Tibhirine could see the Atlas Mountains from their monastery.  "The road leading there remains one of the most dangerous in Algeria. . . . The priory has become a ghost monastery ever since armed men abducted the monks during the night of 26 March 1996.  In May '96, the monks were found beheaded.  No one was found guilty of the crime.  A civil war was raging between the Islamist GIA and the military.  The murder of these seven monks from Tibhirine shook the public.  The whole of France was in shock. Over 10,000 people gathered on the square outside the Trocadero in silent tribute."

 

Groups involved in the Civil War:


AIS  --  the MIA and various smaller groups regrouped, became the FIS-loyalist Islamic Salvation Army (AIS).  AIS, under attack from both sides, opted for a unilateral ceasefire with the government in 1997.

FIS  --  the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) party gained popularity amongst the Algerian people.  Its president, Abbassi Madani, a professor and ex-independence fighter, represented a relatively moderate religious conservatism.  Their vice-president was Ali Belhadj.  FIS rapidly became by far the biggest Islamist party, with a huge following concentrated especially in large urban areas. The huge demonstrations the FIS organized in Algiers in 1991 were effective.  The government arrested Madani and Belhadj.  On December 26, the FIS handily won the first round of parliamentary elections; with 48% of the overall popular vote, they won 188 of the 232 seats decided.  But the army canceled the next round of elections.  Army brings in the exiled independence fighter Mohammed Boudiaf to serve as a new president.  The government officially dissolved the FIS on March 4, 1992.

FLN  --  the National Liberation Front (FLN) party.  Fearing a FLN election victory in 1991, the army cancelled elections after the first round.  This started the civil war in Algeria.

GIA  --   the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), based in the towns.  In 1994 GIA declared war on the FIS and its supporters.  GIA began a series of massacres targeting entire neighborhoods or villages.  The GIA was torn apart by splits as various subdivisions objected to its new massacre policy.  The remnants of the GIA proper were hunted down.

GSCP  --  a splinter group of the GIA, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), initially based on the fringes of Kabylie, formed in 1998 to dissociate itself from the GIA massacres.

MIA  --  Islamic Armed Movement (MIA), based in the mountains.  The MIA and various smaller groups regrouped, becoming the FIS-loyalist Islamic Salvation Army (AIS).

RND  --  newly created pro-Army party, the National Democratic Rally (RND).

Takfir wal Hijra  --  in late November, 1991 armed Islamists connected to the extremist Takfir wal Hijra attacked a border post at Guemmar, foreshadowing the civil war to come.

 

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