Des Hommes et Des Dieux is a very unique film. The more I reflect upon it the more I realize I have never seen anything like it, and the closest similarity I can conjure is very little like it – Cimino’s The Deer Hunter. The similarity is one of storytelling style; they both allow you to live with the characters on screen, creating a sort of emotional bond to them.
The film takes place in the late 1990‘s, in Algeria, around the start of the brutal Algerian Civil War, and centers around a monastery. The monks each have unique personalities, and the acting brings them alive. Music is used in this film almost to denote chapters, and is exclusively monastic chanting with two exceptions. One of them is near the beginning, when we see Koranic chanting, which draws a beautiful contrast between this monastic song, and paves the way for a continuous investigation of the main cultures – Muslim extremist, Muslim religious, Muslim secular, and Christian monk; this contrast is continuously cultivated throughout. The other is Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake”, and this sudden use of ominous music and the placement creates one of the most emotionally intense scenes I have ever seen.
The primary conflict in the film is the monks’ decisions whether to stay in their monastery or to flee in the wake of increasing indiscriminate violence. This struggle brings out much of the characters’ inner conflicts – disgust at humanity, religious doubt, overwhelming fear of or comfort in death, and etc. In this sense the film can be very philosophical and meditative, as is fitting for a monastery itself, and it is not alienating in the slightest for a nonreligious viewer. The camera work adds to this struggle, as there are many long, wide shots of landscapes, which at first I questioned until I realized that this is trying to show their growing comfort and fondness for the land and its people.
This film has left me thinking for days after seeing it and will continue to do so, I feel. I strongly suggest viewing it.
Showtimes for Of Gods and Men:
Opens Friday March 4 @ Clay Theatre