Opening 16 Dec 2010
This is France’s nomination for a foreign-language-Oscar which premiered in Cannes at the 63rd International Festival and received the Grand Prize de Jury, Prix de l’Education Nationale and Preis der Ökumenischen Jury. Xavier Beuvois wrote the script together with Etienne Comar and based it on true events which are still shrouded in uncertainty involving French-Algerian diplomacy.
Nine elderly monks live in an isolated area in Algiers in the Atlas Mountains. Seven times a day this close-knit group is congregating in a small chapel for mutual prayers and singing of hymns. They live a humble life by tending the earth, growing whatever they need for the kitchen and helping the villagers with any problems they might have. One of them acts as the local doctor. The monks are no missionaries but embrace the different religions of their surroundings for which they are loved and respected by the villagers. Suddenly, the tranquility is disturbed when horrible news reaches the village. On a nearby building site Islamic rebels have brutally murdered 14 Croats. A long simmering conflict between the Algerian military and the rebels has been escalating, which also puts the monks in danger. They are under pressure and advised to leave. But they are hesitant. This place is the only home they have. In a round of discussions all possibilities are looked at. Each one has to come to terms with his own doubts, fears or hopes. The camera shows long close-ups of everyone, letting us feel the struggle with each one’s varied emotions. Despite the brutal hostility shown by the rebels as well as the military, a mutual decision is reached: They are men of God and will stay where they are needed most.
The often quiet but emotionally strong scenes are underlined with impressive singing by the monks. Even if you are not a church-goer, it is just something to be enjoyed. The camera catches the simple details of the frugal world surrounding them. Beautiful outside shots and the special atmosphere make for a fitting ending.
During the first three weeks of its screening in France, the movie was seen by 1.8 million people. This is also due to the political actuality of the theme. After watching the film at the Elysée Palace, President Sarkozy intends to personally look into the still unresolved case of the so-called “Tibhirine” affair where nine monks were brutally murdered. (Birgit Schrumpf)