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Of Gods and Men (2010)

Xavier Beauvois

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#161 Attica

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 05:27 PM

My issue is not that I think the claim that the film went largely unnoticed or commented in Christian circles was unsubstantiated. It's that I think it was false incorrect. Jeff, to the extent I understand his replies, disagrees and thinks that this generalization is a fair one. Since I doubt we (Jeff and I) disagree as to the meaning of "unnoticed" I can only conclude that we disagree about the meaning of "Christian circles." I think (but am in no way sure) that what Jeff meant by this phrase was "Christians I know--or a subset of Christian culture that I believe myself to be familiar with." I don't dispute that this subset of Christian culture is unenthusiastic about or unaware of the film. I do dispute that this subset represents the sum totality of what an average reader will parse when confronted with the term "Christian circles." I think it was some lazy writing, and Jeff has said (again, assuming I understand him correctly) that he thinks trying to more narrowly define the group he was characterizing would have been rhetorically cumbersome and implies (or I infer) that many/most of his readers will understand his usage of broader Christian labels better than I apparently did.



Well. At the risk of adding to the arguments about the argument. I'll defend Jeff and say that I've read some of his pieces (including his book on film) and I'd say that he's not one to have lazy writing. I understand quite well what he's trying to say.

Earlier on you had quoted this bit with a certain part underlined.


So why is it that, almost two years since its debut and a full year after its American release date, the film seems to have gone almost unnoticed in the Christian circles, where enthusiasm for "Christian movies" is so intense? Why hasn't it become the new standard for "sacred cinema," inspiring church-basement screenings across the country? Why hasn't it caught on with mainstream evangelicals like Courageous,Fireproof, and Facing the Giants?


I'll underline another part of that quote.



So why is it that, almost two years since its debut and a full year after its American release date, the film seems to have gone almost unnoticed in the Christian circles, where enthusiasm for "Christian movies" is so intense? Why hasn't it become the new standard for "sacred cinema," inspiring church-basement screenings across the country? Why hasn't it caught on with mainstream evangelicals like Courageous,Fireproof, and Facing the Giants?


This group of people, with an intense enthusiam for "Christian movies" (like his examples of Fireproof and the like) is a very specific subset of Christianity, that being largely a subset of mainstream Evangelicals although I hasten to add not all of Evangelicals. I read that quote as Jeff talking about a fairly well known circle of Christians. I personally know some of them.

Edited by Attica, 28 February 2012 - 07:33 PM.


#162 Overstreet

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 05:31 PM

I have not placed aesthetics over narrative. I am only arguing that it aesthetics are, for me, arguably as important, since what we see speaks as much as plot or dialogue.

Nor have I suggested that "how it is about it" is just about visual information. Rhythms, sounds, score, what is shown, what is withheld... all of these things are certainly instrumental.

But what I am saying, I must not be saying well, because almost every reply to my posts has me immediately responding, "Wait, where did you get that? When did I become a nay-sayer or an assailant to this film? When did I say plot doesn't matter and aesthetics are everything? Why do I feel like I'm being punished for not having had the same experience watching this movie as its most fervent advocates?"

I'll leave it at this: I think it's a great film. A great film. Like you, I think it is about the clearest portrayal of the Gospel I have seen in a film.

But as I am ministered to by imagery as much as script, by mystery as much as declaration, by visual beauty as much as character choices, I wouldn't list Of Gods and Men on a short list of the greatest examples of cinematic art I've ever seen. Forgive me if that bothers you. I certainly have no objection to you choosing it.

So much of this has to do with that mysterious, subjective, personal experience of "what speaks to me" that it would be presumptuous of me to say that you're wrong to celebrate it the way you do. And I don't think I have any argument at all with what Michael Leary's said here.

I've never been argued into loving a movie. It's all about what happens when the lights go down and eyes and ears and minds and hearts open up, and what continues to nourish us afterward through reflection and discussion and revisiting the experience.

Edited by Overstreet, 29 February 2012 - 01:01 PM.


#163 kenmorefield

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 05:34 PM

Earlier on you had quoted this bit with a certain part underlined.


So why is it that, almost two years since its debut and a full year after its American release date, the film seems to have gone almost unnoticed in the Christian circles, where enthusiasm for "Christian movies" is so intense? Why hasn't it become the new standard for "sacred cinema," inspiring church-basement screenings across the country? Why hasn't it caught on with mainstream evangelicals like Courageous,Fireproof, and Facing the Giants?


I'll underline another part of that quote.



So why is it that, almost two years since its debut and a full year after its American release date, the film seems to have gone almost unnoticed in the Christian circles, where enthusiasm for "Christian movies" is so intense? Why hasn't it become the new standard for "sacred cinema," inspiring church-basement screenings across the country? Why hasn't it caught on with mainstream evangelicals like Courageous,Fireproof, and Facing the Giants?


This group of people, with an intense enthusiam for "Christian movies" (like his examples of Fireproop and the like) is a very specific subset of Christianity, that being largely a subset of mainstream Evangelicals. Although I hasten to add not all of Evangelicals. I read that quote as Jeff talking about a fairly well known circle of Christians. I personally know some of them.


Hi Attica, for what it's worth, I did not underline that part for emphasis. I made a hyperlink to Jeff's article, so the underlining is part of the hyperlink.

FWIW, the comma in between "circles" and "where" makes the last part of the sentence a non-restrictive clause. So grammatically the sentence parses as saying that enthusiasm for Christian movies is intense in "the Christian Circles" (i.e. all of them). Had there been no comma there, I would have read it as I think it was intended (and as the determiner "the" might suggest)--i.e. as a restrictive clause meant to modify "Christian circles" (i.e. which circles--answer, the ones that like these sorts of movies). That the meaning was plain(er) to you based on your knowledge of Jeff's other writings I actually take as evidencing my point. The writing, even just in that one sentence, isn't particularly clear as to the claim that is being made, a fact that is partially obscured by the use of generalizations or words/labels that some (but not all) readers will have very different connotations of. But you're right that lazy is (or can be perceived to be) pejorative. Jeff is a workhorse who cranks out a lot of writing. (As do I.) One result of such a work rate is that we often don't have the time/energy to be as careful in saying what we mean as some readers would like. So, Jeff, I apologize if "lazy" is/was pejorative. I was trying to get at something akin to "imprecise" -- i.e. making a comment about the clarity of the words not the effort put into them.

Edited by kenmorefield, 28 February 2012 - 06:10 PM.


#164 Overstreet

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 05:37 PM

Of Gods certainly does things that a stage play or novel can't. I don't quarrel with your verdict that the big-screen presentation doesn't necessarily do anything to which a decent-sized small screen can't do reasonable justice. The same is perforce true of Dekalog. I don't think that automatically consigns a work to lesser status.


Interesting that you'd choose that for comparison. I've seen the Dekalog a couple of times, and I admire it immensely. But I don't find myself thirsty to revisit it very often. It often feels a bit studied and stifling to me. Compared to Kieslowski's subsequent works, which I find far more interesting aesthetically, it's lacking the sense of mystery and beauty and grace and synchronicity that makes me reach for those films on an almost monthly basis. (And the aesthetics aren't *just* aesthetics. They are essential to meaning.) But again, that's just me.

Edited by Overstreet, 28 February 2012 - 05:37 PM.


#165 vjmorton

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 05:58 PM

While I think that OF GODS AND MEN is awesome in a bajillion different ways (not all of which I caught on first viewing), one of them is the form that it takes. This isn't remotely a merely-functional recounting of events for, among other reasons — its structure and how it embodies what the film is and is about. OF GODS AND MEN is the most liturgical film I have ever seen, and it achieves this without the easy crutch of, say, title cards or some other explicit structuring device. The first 20 minutes of the film is nothing but the monks' daily activities, that are important in, and because of, their everydayness and their repetitive character. If there were "drama," in these scenes, their function as rite/ritual would be undermined. There are scenes of the monks singing hymns / saying Masses that come from a diegetic nowhere and function as structural breaks, as reminders and as transitions within the film, exactly as hymns do within the Church's liturgy. There are scenes of debate around a table that play an analogous role to the Mass's readings — as overt teaching (albeit in the form of a discussion). And finally ... well ... you know.

Edited by vjmorton, 28 February 2012 - 06:06 PM.


#166 Attica

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 06:10 PM

Hi Attica, for what it's worth, I did not underline that part for emphasis. I made a hyperlink to Jeff's article, so the underlining is part of the hyperlink.

That the meaning was plain(er) to you based on your knowledge of Jeff's other writings I actually take as evidencing my point.


Hi Ken.

The meaning was plain to me because of my understanding of this particular subset more than because of Jeff's other writings. When I read that quote I had a "mind picture" of an exact type of Christian folk. This picture fits in with the discussion at hand, being, why isn't this subset of filmgoers appreciating films like OF GODS AND MEN..... and how can we encourage them to.

I'm with Jeff in that I also grieve a little that some folks aren't experiencing or digging into films like OF GODS AND MEN, nevermind films that might be more controversial in nature (to them at least). This is fitting with what he's said above about the cathedrals and the mystery of it all. There is a greater world of wonder, mystery, depth, and connection with others to be experienced in filmgoing that this particular subset possibly isn't aware of or at least walking into. The sad thing is, that maybe this isn't just a lack of an understanding of film and I'd question if its also a lack of an awareness of what God is capable of (and is) doing outside of this subset of Christianity's understanding of the faith, which extends far beyond film. If that makes sense.

Edited by Attica, 28 February 2012 - 09:52 PM.


#167 Overstreet

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 06:53 PM

I actually generalized in my article for the covert purpose of drawing Ken Morefield back into more conversation on A&F. I've missed him and his ear, which is so admirably sensitive to tone, and I knew that nothing would be more likely to inspire him to speak up than the possibility of some condescension in my review. ;)

While I think that OF GODS AND MEN is awesome in a bajillion different ways (not all of which I caught on first viewing), one of them is the form that it takes.


That's the thing about art. One can see and admire a work in a hundred different ways, and still not be struck or enthralled by it the way another, perhaps less admirably crafted, work of art might sweep you away.

Insofar as I've been describing my personal experience of the work, an apology would make no sense. But I certainly hope that my explanation of why I'm not breathless with awe watching this movie hasn't stepped on anybody's toes. I don't think you'll find anything in what I've said that comes anywhere close to discrediting the film for any perceived flaws. I've merely been describing why it hasn't made me feel a strong desire to revisit it (after only three viewings... gasp!), or sent me to the rooftops saying that I've seen a new personal favorite. That rarely happens anyway. It did with Certified Copy... a film that moved me to reflect on the Gospel, and my response to it, far more aggressively than Of Gods and Men. Again... different languages for different sensibilities, different lenses for different eyes.

(For what it's worth, I agree with pretty much all of the things you're saying about the film's strong points, Victor, but at the same time, most of them could be done in a stage play version... so your description still isn't getting to distinctly cinematic aspects of the film, aspects that I've been trying and failing to describe here.)

Edited by Overstreet, 29 February 2012 - 12:57 PM.


#168 Ryan H.

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 08:31 PM

FWIW, among the aesthetic pleasures that Of Gods and Men gives me that, say, The Tree of Life does not is the pleasure of feeling that every note is right; that every cadence is appropriately (but naturally and persuasively) brought to resolution; that all the parts tell. Every shot, line, exchange, scene, plot point and rise and fall of action cogently advances the whole, creating a harmonious and symmetrical whole. Nothing jumps out as unsatisfying, unconvincing, unrevealing, unbalanced. I'm not distracted by elements that seem not to belong or that trivially don't make sense, or that don't speak to me at all, or that can plausibly be critiqued as risible. I certainly appreciate a complex work of art challenging me with elements that seem dissonant at first but which suggest a higher and more complex inner unity. But after three viewings I'm still far from convinced that the harsher critics of The Tree of Life don't have some very cogent points.

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#169 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 08:54 PM

Overstreet wrote:
: My point was that there are certain *kinds* of stories that excite audiences... including Christian audiences. I have seen, and suspect that it is usually the case, that stories about heroes will draw bigger audiences, and inspire more sermon illustrations, than stories about saints. That's my primary argument. When you take away the stuff of heroism, you take away the sexy stuff. It's difficult to draw an audience for a story about self-denial.

This touches on something else I found odd about your review. I was surprised to hear that it was even POSSIBLE to tell children the stories of David or Samson without somehow getting into their flaws. (It's a lot easier to overlook, say, the bitter irony in the story of Joseph, who enslaved the Egyptians years before Egypt enslaved the Hebrews.) But I found myself wondering if you were suggesting that the story of Jesus somehow obliterates the stories of those Old Testament heroes. The fact that those heroes were flawed does not, in and of itself, mitigate against their heroic deeds, any more than the fact that most martyrs are flawed might diminish their martyrdom.

vjmorton wrote:
: While I think that OF GODS AND MEN is awesome in a bajillion different ways (not all of which I caught on first viewing), one of them is the form that it takes. This isn't remotely a merely-functional recounting of events for, among other reasons — its structure and how it embodies what the film is and is about. OF GODS AND MEN is the most liturgical film I have ever seen . . .

Oh, brilliant! I don't know how similar Catholic liturgy is to Orthodox, but I'll certainly keep this point in mind next time I see the film.

#170 SDG

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 09:21 AM

But what I am saying, I must not be saying well, because almost every reply to my posts has me immediately responding, "Wait, where did you get that?"

Or maybe I'm being dense. Either way, we're mutually puzzling each other. Anyway, looking back over the thread, some of my comments seem to me sharper than I meant them, and I apologize for that.

Oh, brilliant! I don't know how similar Catholic liturgy is to Orthodox, but I'll certainly keep this point in mind next time I see the film.

Really? You haven't experienced a Catholic liturgy? For the purposes of the present discussion, the movements are essentially identical.

#171 M. Leary

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 09:40 AM

vjmorton wrote:
: While I think that OF GODS AND MEN is awesome in a bajillion different ways (not all of which I caught on first viewing), one of them is the form that it takes. This isn't remotely a merely-functional recounting of events for, among other reasons — its structure and how it embodies what the film is and is about. OF GODS AND MEN is the most liturgical film I have ever seen . . .

Oh, brilliant! I don't know how similar Catholic liturgy is to Orthodox, but I'll certainly keep this point in mind next time I see the film.


I think this is correct and referenced it a bit above, in terms of the fact that the director's first point of access to the life of this community is not ideological, but phenomenological. In one of the very few interviews he has given about the film, he talks a bit about trying to figure out how to reduplicate the clothing, the rhythms, and liturgical language of the community. I think it is fascinating that a film I respond to from a devotional or confessional perspective emerges from a completely different, more naturalist, impulse.

#172 SDG

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 10:34 AM

I think it is fascinating that a film I respond to from a devotional or confessional perspective emerges from a completely different, more naturalist, impulse.

I think a number of works that invite and reward devotional responses are rooted in such naturalism, or something like it. The Flowers of St. Francis isn't exactly naturalistic, but there's a "phenomenological" dimension to Rossellini's humanistic interest in the "the perfume of the most primitive Franciscanism."

#173 andrew_b_welch

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 12:53 PM

Given how much has been said already, I'm not sure I have much to add to the conversation here, but I'll give it a whirl.

The word I would use to describe OGaM is harmonious. I used it in my review for Relevant (which I won't link to here because the writing seems a bit purple to me know), and I still think it fits. It feels like one unified whole, which gives it a special kind of beauty beyond just either a visual or narrative beauty alone.

Also, I showed this movie to both my parents and my in-laws, all of whom could be said to belong to "mainstream evangelicalism," and they were stunned by the experience. Would they have sought it out on their own? I don't think so. Were they challenged by it? I absolutely think they were. I'm tempted to speculate on why they might or might not have looked for it by themselves, but I'd rather concentrate on how glad I am that they saw it and were moved by it.

#174 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 01:04 PM

SDG wrote:
: Really? You haven't experienced a Catholic liturgy?

Nope.

: For the purposes of the present discussion, the movements are essentially identical.

I figured as much, since I recently saw your buddy Akin reference a writing of Justin Martyr's that I have seen the Orthodox reference as well, regarding how the basic outline of our present-day liturgies goes all the way back to the mid-2nd century at the very least.

#175 kenmorefield

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Posted 29 February 2012 - 05:26 PM

I actually generalized in my article for the covert purpose of drawing Ken Morefield back into more conversation on A&F. I've missed him and his ear, which is so admirably sensitive to tone, and I knew that nothing would be more likely to inspire him to speak up than the possibility of some condescension in my review. ;)



Thanks, Jeff. That's kind of you.

#176 Overstreet

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Posted 01 March 2012 - 03:19 PM

Specifically, you start with the premise that the film has gone "almost unnoticed in the Christian circles."


I've just realized what may be at the root of the problem here. There is a misplaced comma in that sentence. The full sentence is "So why is it that, almost two years since its debut and a full year after its American release date, the film seems to have gone almost unnoticed in the Christian circles, where enthusiasm for "Christian movies" is so intense?"

I've just confirmed the comma was added by the editor. In doing so, he changed the meaning of the sentence.

It should be: "So why is it that, almost two years since its debut and a full year after its American release date, the film seems to have gone almost unnoticed in the Christian circles where enthusiasm for "Christian movies" is so intense?"

So... I never made a general reference to "Christian circles." I made a specific reference to those Christian communities in which enthusiasm for "Christian movies" (Courageous, Fireproof, Facing the Giants, Left Behind) is high.

I think that would have made a difference.

Edited by Overstreet, 01 March 2012 - 07:46 PM.


#177 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 01 March 2012 - 03:34 PM

Overstreet wrote:
: I've just confirmed the comma was added by the editor. In doing so, he changed the meaning of the sentence.

No kidding. And, as often happens when editors think they know the text better than the people who wrote it, he also introduced a grammatical oddity. Why refer to "the" Christian circles? Why use a definite article there if you were not going to DEFINE the Christian circles you were talking about?

Man, I hate it when editors make writers sound worse. Adding the comma and changing the meaning was bad enough, but adding the comma WITHOUT deleting the "the" just makes the sentence sound that extra bit clunkier.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway, 01 March 2012 - 03:35 PM.


#178 SDG

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Posted 01 March 2012 - 03:53 PM

Overstreet wrote:
: I've just confirmed the comma was added by the editor. In doing so, he changed the meaning of the sentence.

No kidding. And, as often happens when editors think they know the text better than the people who wrote it, he also introduced a grammatical oddity. Why refer to "the" Christian circles? Why use a definite article there if you were not going to DEFINE the Christian circles you were talking about?

Man, I hate it when editors make writers sound worse. Adding the comma and changing the meaning was bad enough, but adding the comma WITHOUT deleting the "the" just makes the sentence sound that extra bit clunkier.

Yikes. I also wondered about that "the Christian circles" thing. Yes, how frustrating is it when editors "correct" something right and make it wrong?

Shudder. Many, many years ago I wrote an essay for The Door magazine that was a spoof of Douglas Adams by way of St. Augustine, called "The City of God at the End of the Universe" ... and what the editor did to the very first sentence of that piece, among others, with misplaced sentences shouldn't happen to anyone.

#179 Overstreet

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Posted 01 March 2012 - 05:54 PM

Well, for the record, I really like that editor. Not sure what happened with the comma.

#180 Overstreet

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Posted 02 March 2012 - 01:47 PM

The editors have corrected/revised that opening paragraph to my liking. Hopefully, that will help smooth the rough spot that I suspect was inspiring Ken's objection.





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