Movie about monks massacred in Algeria wins best film award

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Actors from the movie "Of Gods and Men"

The film “Of Gods and Men” won the prize for best film at the prestigious 36th annual César Awards ceremony in Paris on Feb. 25.

The movie, directed by Xavier Beauvois, is based on the story of the seven Trappist monks murdered in Algeria in 1996.

“Thank you infinitely,” Beauvois told the audience after receiving the national film award of France from the awards ceremony president, American actress Jodie Foster.

Michael Lonsdale took the prize for best supporting actor. He played the role of a monk who served as a doctor in the Trappists’ clinic.

“Of Gods and Men” was nominated in 11 categories and also won the prize for best cinematography. Nominees for the César Awards are chosen by the members of the Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma.

Peter Rainer, film critic for The Christian Science Monitor, said the movie sets up a duality between the meditative life of the monks and the violence of the outside world.

“And yet the film-makers never seek to define either of these worlds as more ‘real’ than the other,” he noted.

The movie’s monks refuse military protection not because they are willing to die, but because to accept it would place them above the terrorized nearby villagers who lack protection. The monks trust in Providence, knowing full well that they will be killed.

The movie cites the last testament of Br. Christian de Cherge, who rejected the “caricatures of Islam” which “a certain Islamism encourages.”

“This country and Islam, for me, are something else. They are a body and a soul,” he wrote of Algeria.

Last year Beauvois spoke to Vatican Radio when the film was released. He said the message of the brothers is one of peace. They had a spirit of intercultural dialogue he feels to be missing today, and they followed John Paul II’s message “Be not afraid.”

“We are all afraid,” the director said. “But the monks decided to go beyond that.”

The history of the murdered monks is one of vivid witness.

In the 1990s the French Trappists from Our Lady of Atlas monastery, located about 43 miles south of Algiers, decided to remain despite threats from militants. They had positive relations with their Muslim neighbors, working among the poor and providing free medical care.

In March 1996, seven of the monks were abducted by nearly 20 guerillas of the Armed Islamic Group. They were beheaded two months later after France refused to negotiate the release of detainees.

After the debut of “Of Gods and Men,” Br. Jean Pierre Schumacher, one of the two monks who narrowly avoided being abducted, told the Spanish weekly Alfa y Omega that he has not ceased to pray for the conversion of the Muslim extremists who killed the members of his community.

“We must forgive. God calls us to love each other,” he commented.

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