In 1996, in Algeria, eight French monks of The Monastery Notre-Dame de l'Atlas of Tibhirine have a simple life serving the poor community that was raised around the monastery. During the Algerian Civil War, they are threatened by terrorists but they decide to stay in the country and not return to France. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The official French submission for the Foreign Language Film Award at the 83rd Academy Awards. See more »
When Luc leans against the painting, his face and left hand touch it noticeably higher in the close-up than during the preceding shot. See more »
Should it ever befall me, and it could happen today, to be a victim of the terrorism swallowing up all foreigners here, I would like my community, my church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country. That the Unique Master of all life was no stranger to this brutal departure. And that my death is the same as so many other violent ones, consigned to the apathy of oblivion. I've lived enough to know, I am complicit in the evil that, alas, prevails over ...
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Painterly film exploring the purpose and power of faith
I liked the control of this film's ambiguities. At first I thought it was set in France. Then, perhaps, a Balkan country. Only later does the film reveals itself but not before one has confronted several assumptions about the rightness or wrongness of there being a monastic order at the centre of a largely Muslim community.
During the film the seven monks are obliged to consider their practical role, their higher purpose and their own strengths as men, individually and collectively. We are told next to nothing of their back story and must work from their characters as revealed in the situations in which they find themselves - tending the sick, and facing the political and physical threat of the internecine attrition of local Muslim factions.
The performances operated along an axis that has the sage, worldly but ageing Michael Lonsdale (Luc) at one end and Lambert Wilson at the other, giving a career-watershed performance as Christian, the youthful, scholarly, faith-secure leader of the group. The film's ascetic design affords ample opportunity for beautifully composed shots that recall late 17th century Italian church allegories or the martyrdom-piety of Carl Dreyer's Joan of Arc. This is particularly the case in a memorable, exquisitely filmed Antonioni-like extended- denouement sequence which scrutinises the group as they eat supper after making the key decision of the film.
In addition to the performances of Lonsdale (creating a character on a continued trajectory from the worldly-compassionate servitude shown in Frankenheimer's Ronin) and the excellent Wilson, I admired director Xavier Beauvois' restraint in not laying on the piety too heavy and in pitching the pragmatism of the self-sufficient monks just right. The film doesn't preach. If anything, in its austerity it can seem a little remote for a Western audience. Still, the cold and hardship, like much else in the film, rings true. 7/10
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