Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Xavier Beauvois: To Leave is to Die

The tenuous line between faith and devotion is tread oh so discretely in gifted filmmaker Xavier Beauvois' austere, spellbinding film Of Gods and Men. Winner of the Grand Prize at last year's Tim Burton presided Cannes Film Festival, this work sneaks up on you and haunts you long after the credits roll.

Based on real events, the minimalist style complements the intricate plot in heavenly fashion. A group of Monks living in an Algerian monastery find themselves caught up in the political strife of their rural area, where terrorists lurk, butchered bodies are discovered daily, and the low key villagers rely on them for medical attention, friendship and fatherly advice. Their (non) reaction to the atrocities and danger around them, and their mysteriously poignant decision to remain where the Lord has called them to be provide the heavy heart of Beauvois' story.

The cast is perfection, with Lambert Wilson stoic yet torn in his heart as their leader, and French film legend Michel Lonsdale exceptional as the kind hearted old doctor (looking after the villagers as if they were his own children) wonderfully affecting. A later scene where the men share a humble meal to Tchaikovsky is a triumph of style and substance in glorious union.

The true gift herein is this light handed director's ability to place us inside a world, to allow us to identify with these men of God, and to end the film in a transcendent, phantasmal yet simple way. Beauvois pays homage to the supreme masters of cinema, Robert Bresson ( his sublime Diary of a Country Priest comes to mind) and Jean Renoir (the moral solemnity of the men and snowbound climax evoke Grand Illusion) with his pondering of the moral and religious states and fates of these pious men of God, while making his voice and visions heard and seen by taking us to a place few artists dare to go.

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