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Xavier Beauvois' Of Gods and Men is a film about faith, community, martyrdom, and monks. It's also a film that became something of a phenomenon in France last fall, garnering box-office numbers more typical of an American blockbuster import than a contemplative film about religion. Perhaps that's due to the film's timely subject matter (Christian-Muslim relations), or maybe it's because there's an increasing hunger for films unafraid of sincerity. In the midst of a contemporary cinema accustomed to cynicism and despair, Of Gods and Men—the Grand Prix award winner at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival—stands out as a luminous testimony to hope. It's a film that speaks directly into our present situation, and yet also transcends it.
Directed by Beauvois and written by screenwriter Etienne Comar, Of Gods and Men is based loosely on the experiences of a small group of Cistercian monks in Tibhirine, Algeria in 1996.  As the film begins, we observe the peaceful rhythms of life within the monastery: a group of about eight monks, led by Brother Christian (Lambert Wilson), pray, sing, worship, and serve the Muslim community in which they live. The elderly monastery doctor, Brother Luc (Michael Lonsdale), offers free medical treatment to the ailing in the nearby village. Several monks attend local Muslim ceremonies and celebrations to show their love and support. The monastery's homemade honey is sold in local markets. It's a vision for how Christians and Muslims can live alongside and learn from one another in a peaceful, mutually beneficial way.
But this community of peace is under threat, as Algeria faces violent civil war between government forces and Islamist insurgents. Early in the film—in one of its rare moments of bloody violence—a group of European construction workers are ambushed and brutally slaughtered by the terrorist insurgents. This event, coupled with warnings for all foreigners to exit the country or risk a similar fate, catalyzes the main ...