- A group of ten Catholic monks live in a hilltop monastery surrounded by impoverished Algerian villages. They provide much needed medicine and advice to the local Muslim community. Under threat by fundamentalist terrorists and from the state army, they must decide whether to leave or stay.
The film is very slow paced and meditative. It vividly captures the brittle Winter cold of the monastery and the warmth of the monks as they stoically go about their daily routines. It won the Grand Prix at Cannes 2010. All the old guys give great performances as the monks and Michael Londsdale as the Doctor – Luc I felt was particularly brilliant. He is able to pull focus towards him with the tiniest of actions and exudes a stillness and knowledge with little dialogue. Although I enjoyed it I wouldn’t put it in my top films of the year.
It’s calming to watch as when drama arrives the monks deal with it in a rational and thoughtful way. Even at the end, when things take a desperate turn, the monks are calm, with a dignified acceptance of their fate, not as Martyrs which the explicitly state they are not, but they have made their choice and accept the results.
The film does end on a sad note but feels very plain and non judgmental. There’s no packaging up the story into a Hollywood theme. This is probably a good thing but maybe this is why I found it a bit flat.
It also brought up all sorts of side questions in my mind, which it doesn’t really answer. About Colonialism and should the Monks be there at all? The Vatican is so rich, why can’t the send more medicine and supplies to their Missionaries? Religious agendas vs living. The banality of good and evil, the meaningless nature of life. Perhaps these were all the themes, I’m still not quite sure. Hmm.