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Movie review: 'Of Gods and Men,' 3.5 stars

Of Gods and Men

Of Gods and Men

Of Gods and Men
3.5 stars
Written and directed by Xavier Beauvois
Starring Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale
In French and Arabic
Rated R

“Of Gods and Men,” based on a true story, is a stylistically austere but deeply stirring film about a group of French monks who served a rural Algerian community in the 1990s, providing medical services and aid with day-to-day burdens.

When Islamic extremists begin terrorizing the population, the monks are urged by both France and Algeria to evacuate. Beholden to the community they have served for so long, the monks deliberate: Jump ship or stay put?

The brotherhood is initially divided: Half are ready to get the heck out of Dodge, while the others believe they must remain — they are the only solace for many in a time of despair.
“Of Gods and Men” unfolds as a thoughtful discourse among the monks as they debate their path. Their conversations are theological, political and philosophical, but they also deal with the pragmatic. Oftentimes, they put their decisions to a vote.

As the monks grapple with their choice, director Xavier Beauvois introduces scenes of mounting violence. One’s first instinct is to urge the monks to go back to France — sticking around seems futile in such a hopeless context. Gradually, though, their reasons for staying become surprisingly persuasive. Out of their discussions about devotion — to God and to their community — comes a portrait of martyrdom in its purest form. It’s a beautiful thing to behold.

Playing at Lincoln Plaza and Landmark Sunshine

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