Greetings again from the darkness. This film may be tough for much of the American audience. There are long stretches with minimal dialogue and more filmed prayer than I ever recall seeing. This is based on the true story of eight Trappist Monks who are caught in the middle between some 1996 fundamentalist terrorists and the Algerian-Muslim village that the monastery serves.
The driving theme is the dilemma facing the dedicated monks … should they remain in the monastery and support the village or should they retreat and live to serve another community? The film does a terrific job of examining the strength of faith among this group who are still just human beings … men who don’t wish to die.
The government has ordered them to leave and the military has offered to protect them. The group, led by Christian (Lambert Wilson), declines the military offer and continually discuss the idea of leaving. The wisest of the monks, Luc (Michael Lonsdale), is in failing health. He is also the doctor and can’t imagine leaving the villagers with no medical care. Their is a tremendous exchange as one of the monks states they are like birds on a branch. A humble villager replies that the monks are the branch and the villagers are the birds. Good stuff.
Director Xavier Beauvois (Le petit Lieutenant) creates a fantastic scene where the Monks make their final decision to stay. Their dinner and wine event is set to the tune of the Black Swan symphony. Really something to behold as smiles and relief make their way around the table. Of course, as with most of the foreboding hymns sung throughout, we understand that their fate is decided.
The sparseness and serenity of the monastery is offset by the inner turmoil each of the monks face. This is presented very effectively but I do think the film misses an opportunity to shed more light on the overall political struggles of the time. We are really left in the dark on these issues and it becomes a very intimate, narrow focus on these 8 men.
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you can appreciate the delicate balance between faith and a human desire to live
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: watching 8 monks pray and sing hymns is a bit dry for your tastes, even if they end up taken hostage