Xavier Beauvois’s fact-inspired film of modern martyrdom, set in Algeria during a 1996 uprising of Islamic fundamentalists, calmly watches as seven members of a small Catholic monastery (and, later, a visitor from the local diocese) decide what actions (if any) they should take to protect themselves. Welcome members in the local community, and the only medical resource in the area, the men are fully aware of the encroaching danger, but are unwilling to adjust, neither accepting protection from the military nor able to deny treatment to the rebels when asked; they're A MONASTERY FOR ALL SEASONS. But, as with Robert Bolt’s version of Thomas More, something’s gone missing. For More, as portrayed in A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS/’66, it was the irony of embracing the ‘principled’ religious edicts of a politically-minded Pope. For DES HOMMES, it’s the idea that religious conviction & daily routine immunize against consequences. Is their (lack of) response noble & courageous or blind & vain? The film seems to have made up our mind for us. Handsomely put together and superbly acted (even when the seven monks make you think of Disney’s 7 Dwarfs), but without the abstracted stylization, pace & theatricality Fred Zinnemann was able to give the earlier film, it weighs you down when it wants to haunt you.
DOUBLE-BILL: Those with a taste for the monastic life (and a lot of patience) can soak up a year’s worth of solitude & quiet atmosphere with INTO GREAT SILENCE/’05.