DRAMA; 2hr 2min (French and Arabic with subtitles)
STARRING: Lambert Wilson, Michael Lonsdale
Men of faith: from left, Wilson and Jean-Marie Frin
The Trappist monks of Algeria’s Our Lady of Atlas monastery live in serene integration with their Muslim neighbours in this respectful French study, tending to the sick (Lonsdale is their frail doctor), tilling their soil, bottling and selling their honey and immersing themselves in hours of prayer and study. The rigours of purity and simplicity are no defence when Islamic extremists strike, however. The army offers protection as the terrorists make their presence felt but much to the other brothers’ initial consternation, it is refused by their defiant leader, Christian (Wilson). In any event, these good and kindly souls, for whom service proves to be a self-defining watchword, are a painfully easy target.
Based on actual events in 1996, director Xavier Beauvois’s contemplative accounting of the uncertainty that creeps into the reverential flow of the monks’ daily routines is a slow and steady process. These are not souls attuned to urgency, yet the threat of death is as real as the faith that sustains the men when the darkness rises to meet them.