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Of Gods and Men

A drama about monks in a troubled land, balancing faith and survival

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The French monks in an Algerian religious community, c. 1996, face a dilemma: Islamic radicals have killed some foreigners, and the monks could be next. Their principled leader wants them to refuse protection from the corrupt government, which respects their work but still sees them as colonials. Some of the brothers say that staying amounts to "collective suicide." How much of their principle is Christian charity, and how much is merely their own selfish need to believe (they could become hostages and make things harder for everyone)? What's better for a country: benevolent foreigners or chaotic self-rule? These struggles could be compelling, and some of the dialogue articulates both sides well. But Xavier Beauvois' somber and pensive Of Gods and Men -- the French title, Des Hommes et des Dieux, reverses the billing -- too often plods along and never quite reaches a stride, slowly working through the conflict between praying alive or dying for God. It's a true story, and handsomely filmed in crisp muted colors (when it's not too dark to see). Weakness, says one monk, is "a reality that must constantly be refashioned by faith, hope and love." Of course, the barrel of a gun has always had a profound effect on faith. In French, with subtitles. Starts Fri., April 8. Manor

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