When Father Christian de Chergé, the French prior of an Algerian monastery, wrote his testament, he didn't expect to inspire a film that would be France's top-grossing movie in 2010, the Grand Prix winner at Cannes and Best Film at France’s César Awards.
I went to the cinema yesterday to see Of Gods and Men (Des hommes et des dieux) and it's still resonating with me. It's a quiet little film with a powerful message and strong, compelling performances by veteran actor Lambert Wilson (shown on right) and all the cast including Michael Lonsdale who won the César for Best Supporting Actor.
There's a compelling scene where the brothers share a meal together while listening to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake that is still etched in my mind. The film takes a look at the emotional roller coaster they faced as they stood fast in their faith, despite the looming possibility of death at the hands of radical Islamists who were terrorizing their community in Tibhirine, Algeria.
Jacques Herlin was one of my favourites as Amédée, Michael Lonsdale was wonderful as Luc, the doctor who tended to 100 patients a day in the small mountain village
Lambert in NYTimes: “I fell in love with the character. Christian is very complex — a man of extreme power of conviction, very sensitive, extremely altruistic, like all the monks were. But he was also a great intellectual and a leader, a man who could convince those monks, even before the danger started to appear, that they had to build this bridge between Christianity and Islam.”
Lambert discusses film [press kit]: "The first interactions were a bit embarrassing because none of us were great singers, but it helped break the ice between us. As actors, it is because we had to work together on singing that it helped us become this community of monks. We had to fuse in some sort of higher level and reveal our own identities at the same time. For me, singing, besides the biographical work each of us did on our respective characters, is what constituted the essential foundation of our preparation. At the Tamié Abbey, where we went on a retreat, monks spend four hours a day singing during the seven religious offices. We all loved doing this work with multiple voices--it’s the principle of fusion in the choir. It was a very exhilarating journey.
In fact, it reminded me of the very simple emotions I loved when I was little. I did a little choir singing in kindergarten, and I totally loved it. In fact, that is why I say I am a frustrated singer: I think there is no more beautiful activity than singing.
What is surprising with the actors is that they gave themselves to this singular exercise with a lot of candor. On the set, when we were waiting for the lights to be adjusted, for example, instead of idling time away, we sang together. Suddenly, we would start singing a “Salve Regina” or another tune because we took real pleasure in it. We felt a real sense of sharing among us-- it’s a very simple joy, almost playful, to start off from the same bar and to manage to reach the last one together”.
Directed by: Xavier Beauvois Cast: Lambert Wilson as Christian, Michael Lonsdale as Luc, Olivier Rabourdin as Christophe, Philippe Laudenbach as Célestin, Jacques Herlin as Amédée, Loïc Pichon as Jean-Pierre, Xavier Maly as Michel, Jean-Marie Frin as Paul
Should it ever befall me, and it could happen today, to fall victim to the terrorism which seems to now want to engulf all the foreigners living here, I would like my community, my church and my family to remember that my life was GIVEN to God and to this country. May they accept that the Unique Master of all life could not be a stranger to this brutal departure. May they be able to associate this death to so many other violent ones, consigned to the apathy of anonymity.
I've lived long enough to know that I am complicit in the evil that, alas, seems to prevail over the world and even of the one that would strike me blindly.
I could never desire such a death. In fact, I don’t see how I could ever rejoice in this people I love being indistinctly accused of my murder. I know the contempt the people of this country may have indiscriminately been surrounded by. And I know which caricatures of Islam a certain Islamism encourages.
This country and Islam, for me, are something else. They are a body and a soul. My death will of course quickly vindicate those who hastily called me naïve or idealistic, but they must know that I will finally be freed of my most burning curiosity and will be able, God willing, to immerse my gaze into the Father's in order to contemplate with him his children of Islam as he sees them.
In this THANK YOU, where from now on all is said about my life, I include you of course, friends of yesterday and today, and you as well, friend of the last minute, who knew not what you were doing.
Yes, for you as well I want this THANK YOU and this FAREWELL which you envisaged. And may we meet again, happy thieves in paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both.