As the film patiently (perhaps too much so for some) heads toward its foregone conclusion, Beauvois gradually raises his style to a level of baroqueness reminiscent of 1995's "Don't Forget You're Going to Die."
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Of Gods and Men is supple and suspenseful, appropriately austere without being overly harsh, and without forgoing the customary pleasures of cinema. The performances are strong, the narrative gathers momentum as it progresses, and the camera is alive to the beauty of the Algerian countryside.
The film is masterfully directed by Xavier Beauvois who co-wrote the screenplay. At Cannes, Of Gods and Men received the runner-up Grand Prix. It's also France's selection for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.
Ignore the precise religious context and it stands perfectly well as a restrained look at personal convictions in the face of certain death.
Beauvois's film is cool while Denis's is hot-but the main difference is that where "White Material" is knowingly postcolonial, Of Gods and Men aspires to the timeless.
More than anything, Of Gods and Men is a drama of character, and warm humanity.
Godly as the monks are, they are still human-which makes their ultimate sacrifice all the more devastating.
There are eight individual decisions to be made here, yet Beauvois never humanizes any of his monks. The film instead consumes itself with songs, communal prayers and nightly meals.
It is their shared strength as a band of brothers humble before their Christian God - and indeed before the God of Islam - that may stir viewers to an awe that transcends skeptical opinions about religion or politics.
Not withstanding rich performances from Wilson and Lonsdale, the film never comes close to embodying that level of complexity.