Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Video review: "Of Gods and Men"

"Of Gods and Men" is a loving tribute to Trappist monks living in isolation in the largely Muslim nation of Algeria in the 1990s. It's based on a true story, and is a tale of tragedy and bravery, of men who put their faith and devotion to their fellow humans ahead of their own well-being -- even their very lives.

It is also, truth be told, exceedingly dull at times.

Director Xavier Beauvois, who also co-wrote the film that won the Grand Prix at Cannes Film Festival, patiently follows these holy men on the quotidian tasks of their daily lives -- praying, singing, tending gardens, cleaning kitchen pots, etc.

I'm guessing his idea was to immerse the audience in the existence of the monks, both their deep spiritual thoughts as well as their petty conflicts and drab chores, so as to better identify with them. Perhaps I'm shallow, but mostly it convinced me that the life of a Trappist monk is dreadfully boring.

When the film focuses on the fateful choice the monks have to make after Islamic extremists threaten Westerners in the area, "Of Gods and Men" hits a powerful chord. It's a shame they didn't make a shorter, more intense movie that focused on their dilemma rather than their daily life.

An interesting note on this video release: As near as I can determine, "Of Gods and Men" is only being issued as a Blu-ray or a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack -- no standalone DVD version available. I believe that's the first major film release with which I've seen that.

The combo pack comes with only two extras. The first is "The Sacrificed Tibéhirine: Further Investigation," an 18-minute documentary looking at the real case of the murdered priests, and revisiting the actual monastery where they lived. The other is "Merrimack College Augustine Dialogue IX with author John W. Kiser," a 41-minute religious-themed chat with the author of a book about the Tibéhirine monks.

Movie: 2 stars out of four
Extras: 2.5 stars

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