National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

DVD Picks 07.03.11

BY Steven D. Greydanus

Register Film Critic

July 3-16, 2011 Issue | Posted 6/24/11 at 4:09 PM

 

Of Gods and Men (2010)

No Greater Love (2010)


Heads up, dear readers — this is the big one! Now available on Blu-ray and DVD, Of Gods and Men is not only the best film of the year to date, it’s also the most religiously and spiritually outstanding film in many years.

Directed by Xavier Beauvois, the film, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes, is based on the true story of nine French Trappist monks from the Tibhirine monastery in Algeria, most of whom were beheaded in 1996. Not the story of how the monks died, but of how they lived and why they were willing to die, it tells the story of nine imperfect men who made a difficult choice to stay in a war-torn foreign country that countless citizens would gladly have fled.

Filmed in Morocco in French and Arabic, the film has a quasi-documentary quality recalling Into Great Silence and No Greater Love (see below). Of Gods and Men powerfully communicates the beauty and attractiveness of lived Christian faith, of the faith in its theological and liturgical richness and uniqueness.

In this short space I can’t begin to encapsulate the outstanding artistic and religious merits of this film, but see my full review and my multi-part blog post series “How Catholic is Of Gods and Men?” at NCRegister.com.

Available in a two-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, Of Gods and Men comes with only two extras (other than the theatrical trailer). “The Sacrificed Tibéhirine: Further Investigation” offers personal insights from the monks’ family members and touches on open questions around the circumstances of the killings. There’s also an interview with John W. Kiser, whose book The Monks of Tibhirine heavily influenced the film.

Both featurettes flesh out the story with insights into the monks, their milieu and their commitment to the people of Algeria. Kiser highlights the vow of “stability” that is part of the Trappist ethos, which the Tibhirine monks saw as binding them to their Muslim neighbors. A key incident decades earlier in the life of Christian, the abbot, is highlighted: Before entering religious life, as a policeman in Algeria, Christian’s life was saved from radicals by a Muslim policeman named Muhamad who intervened on Christian’s behalf — only to face his own demise the next day.

 

Bonus pick: Available on DVD from Ignatius Press, British filmmaker Michael Whyte’s No Greater Love is a beautiful, contemplative documentary look at life in a Carmelite monastery in London’s Notting Hill. In contrast to the similarly themed masterpiece Into Great Silence, with its nearly unbroken fly-on-the-wall style, No Greater Love includes a number of interviews with the nuns illuminating their lives and choices. Highly recommended.

Content advisory: Of Gods and Men: Brief graphic violence, a few disturbing images and references; a single obscene expression. Subtitles. Teens and up. No Greater Love: Nothing objectionable, but it won’t keep most young kids’ attention.