This is the film a lot of us expected would win the Palme D’Or in Cannes, rather than the one that did—the eccentric Thai art house darling, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. Instead, Xavier Beauvois’ powerful yet understated drama received the runner-up award, misleadingly named Le Grand Prix. Of Gods and Men does not reinvent cinema or push any artistic boundaries. But it’s a heart-rending story beautifully told. The film is based on the true story of seven French monks who were killed by Islamic fundamentalists in 1996 as they clung to their quiet existence in a Cisterian monastery in Algeria. The attack does not come out of the blue; it is the story’s inevitable tragic ending. Whether to stay or leave becomes a matter of debate among the monks as violence escalates outside their walls. The brothers are endearing characters, and as trite as it sounds, you fall in love with these guys, as if they were the seven dwarfs redux. The parallels between Islam and Christianity are there for the taking. Fortunately, however, Beauvois lets the story tell itself without high-handed morals or melodrama. As we enter the monastery and become part of it, this is a movie that offers a paradoxical escape, into a world of grace from which there’s no exit. Expect it to find a place at the Oscars.
Of Gods and Men premieres at TIFF Sept. 13 with an additional screening Sept. 17.