Birds on a Branch

‘Of Gods and Men’

As I watched Of Gods and Men, the mesmerizing fact-based French movie about the martyrdom of seven French Trappists in 1990s Algeria, the word “embedded” came to mind. In the past decade we have become familiar with this term in reference to the military practice of tucking a war reporter into a company of soldiers carrying out missions in Iraq or Afghanistan. While being kept from straying alone into danger or stumbling onto information that the military command might not want broadcast, the embedded journalist can gain an immediate, ineffaceable understanding of what the common soldier experiences.

In Of Gods and Men two kinds of embedding are at play. First, it’s clear that the monks of the monastery have so unstintingly offered their skills and resources (medicine, clothes, literacy) to a village in the Atlas Mountains that they have embedded themselves in the community. At the same time, that community has become indispensable to the spiritual life of the monks, for their service isn’t just a matter of duty but an offering to God.

Second, director and co-writer (with Etienne Comar) Xavier Beauvois embeds us in the lives of the monks by making us share their daily itinerary of work and prayer. Within the monastery walls we are treated to moments of stillness (...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.