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Of Gods and Men (2010)

Xavier Beauvois

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#101 Attica

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 01:06 AM

I think of them as being on an equal plane, though, since they have different means and different aesthetic sensibilities.


That works for me. I think I enjoyed them both about the same, but for different reasons. Tree of Life is of course, more visually dynamic, and quite philisophically thought provoking. Yet.... and this is a big yet......Of God's and Men is a really well told, meaningful story.

Edited by Attica, 28 February 2012 - 01:42 AM.


#102 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 02:33 AM

Pair wrote:
: Hmm, "Fuck off" must be an obscenity then? I shudder to think what would qualify as profanity. 8O

I'm sure we've discussed this elsewhere, but FWIW, profanity is, by definition, religious in nature ("pro + fane" = "before the temple"), whereas obscenity refers to something immoral or offensive to the senses (including body functions, for obvious reasons). Profanity is not merely a more intense form of obscenity.

#103 Ryan H.

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 06:26 AM

I can't imagine why a "dynamic" or "fluid" visual style would automatically be privileged over an "austere" one.

There isn't any reason that it should be, provided each style was an equally considered and appropriate choice for the material. Of course, I've been up front about where my personal tastes lie--I love Style with a capital "S"--but that's less a judgment of quality than a statement of personal preference, though naturally I cannot escape that my tastes do and will inform my judgments on some basic level. (Hence my love for MYSTERIES OF LISBON and its dazzling, almost De Palma-esque extended camera movements.)

Considering the stylistic choices for OF GODS AND MEN, I do think that the film's visual landscape could have been improved. It didn't need to be showier--the style should evoke the simplicity of the monastic life--but there nevertheless could have been a little more attention paid to lighting and mise-en-scène. I do think it's fair to describe the visual landscape of the film "flat" at certain moments.

Edited by Ryan H., 28 February 2012 - 06:38 AM.


#104 SDG

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 10:03 AM

I'm not going to argue that there's no way Of Gods and Men could be better, or that you can't pick out bits to criticize as "flat" -- though I think even the "flatter" bits often serve the material well, particularly when the director has reason to wish to be as unobtrusive and invisible as possible. (Certainly we wouldn't want DePalmaesque camera movements in the opening chant scene, for instance. And I don't mean to pick on Christian's use of the word "dynamic," but are you really saying that, say, Ozu's stationary camera and fixed point of view hurts his films? I suspect not, but I don't know what "dynamic" means except "moving.")

FWIW, Andrew O'Hehir refers to Of Gods' "austere but spectacular visual language." Andrew Schenker in Slant sketches some quick strokes: "Through a series of austerely lit fixed takes and slow, methodical pans, Beauvois evokes the daily life of the monks and the vast sweep of the valley landscape, while with a slightly livelier camera he gives us a sense of the mutually beneficial encounters between Christian and Muslim." That's exactly what I remember, and in the main how I think it should be.

I don't think it's right to call Of Gods "a 'plain' film with a powerful message." I don't think its power is solely in its "message," for one thing, as if we were talking about a "message" film like Courageous. I think it is a powerful work of art -- a powerful drama with a powerful exploration of humanity, of characters, of ambiguity and conflict, of the no-man's-land between high ideals and hard realities, of truth and goodness and beauty. And I think that its visual approach is a key part of its power.

The response I've seen in receptive viewers to Of Gods is akin to a new clarity of self-knowledge. I've seen Christians and non-Christians come away shattered, conscious of their eyes being newly opened to who they are, to what life is all about. It's not simply an assent to a message. It's a transformative encounter with a vision of life, made possible through art.

Edited by SDG, 28 February 2012 - 10:05 AM.


#105 Christian

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 10:17 AM

I've seen the film just once and don't recall the projection being as sharp as it might have been (it was OK, just not as crisp as I might like; a common complaint from me). My memory is that the film's power comes almost entirely from what it's about. That's not to say it has no images, or moments, that stay with me. I just couldn't fix on any particular style from the filmmaker, whose other work I haven't seen.

I love Ozu and Dreyer and other masterful framers of images. I wouldn't put Of Gods and Men in their company, but that's no slam against it. Very few films rise to that level.

I'll grant you this: Of Gods and Men is about 6,000 times better than The Mill and the Cross. :)

#106 SDG

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 10:27 AM

Christian:

See Of Gods and Men again.

And then see The Mill & the Cross again. :)

#107 Nick Olson

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 10:42 AM

Hm. I ranked Of Gods and Men slightly higher, but both it and The Mill and the Cross are in my favorite 5 films list for 2011...

#108 SDG

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 10:44 AM

Hm. I ranked Of Gods and Men slightly higher, but both it and The Mill and the Cross are in my favorite 5 films list for 2011...

Ditto (#1 and #3, respectively).

#109 Nick Olson

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 10:57 AM

Hm. I ranked Of Gods and Men slightly higher, but both it and The Mill and the Cross are in my favorite 5 films list for 2011...

Ditto (#1 and #3, respectively).


#3 and #5 on mine...

#110 Christian

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 11:04 AM

#5 and not-in-a-million-years on mine.

Edited by Christian, 28 February 2012 - 11:04 AM.


#111 kenmorefield

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 11:20 AM

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?



Jeff, I've got no bone to pick with you about the film--which you liked more than I did but that I liked [okay, respected, not really "liked"] well enough.

But I do think your review relies very heavily on a straw man argument. That is, I don't deny that the question you ask can be answered the way that it is answered, but I do question the question. Specifically, you start with the premise that the film has gone "almost unnoticed in the Christian circles." I think this claim only even defensible/accurate if one accepts what seems to be your premise that "Christian circles" = Movieguide and its readership. If that's the case, why not just say so? Why keep perpetuating the use of the label "Christian" in a way that simply denies contrary evidence to your claim by cherry-picking what qualifies to be included under that umbrella term?

I mean, I reviewed (and podcasted) the film from Toronto within days of its world premiere. Steven has been using his bully pulpit to champion this film for months on end. (I don't say that derisiviely, it's his job and he does it well, and it is a labor of love). Arts & Faith is a "Christian circle" and, to date, this thread has over 100 responses in it. Christianity Today ran a review of the film and named it #1 on its Most Redeeming Films of 2011 list. Christian Spotlight on Entertainment reviewed the film, giving it 4 1/2 stars (out of 5); Crosswalk called the film "a stirring profession of faith." Google "Of Gods and Men" and "Christian Movie Review" and you'll see reviews by "Orthodox Christian Meditations," Christian Cinema.com (Greg Wright), RottenTomatoes has a link to some site called "Looking Closer" which, I think, is a Christian circle. Yes, the Grand Prize Jury for the Ecumenical award at Cannes is not necessarily indicative of the same circle as those who watch "Fireproof" but is it not "Christian" or at least indicative of interest in some Christian circles?

I honestly don't mean this to be snotty (may be too late I know), but I hang out with and around a lot of Christians and in a lot of Christian circles, and everyone I've spoken to is at worst respectful towards and at best enthusiastic about the film. I get (or think I do) that what you really mean in your review is not "why is the film not more popular in Christian circles?" but "why is the film not more popular with a certain kind of Christian consumer/viewer who annoys me?" That's fine. Pointing out, yet again, that there are [some/a lot of] Christians who are still drinking what you think to be milk and still uninterested in what you think of as meat is okay. But to make generalizations about "Christian circles" really either just perpetuates the notion that the Movieguides of the world really do speak for the Real, True Christians or makes you come across as unwilling to be specific about who and what you are criticizing. To state that a film that won the Cesar award for best picture has gone "unnoticed" by Christians is kind of akin to saying there are no Christians in France, isn't it? Sure you can say, well, the kind of viewer who likes Fireproof doesn't accept all the RCs in France as "Christian" but the point I'm making is that distinction--between what is accepted as warranting a "Christian" descriptive label and what is not for the purpose of cultural commentary--is one that you are making in your review.

#112 SDG

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 11:25 AM

Steven has been using his bully pulpit to champion this film for months on end. (I don't say that derisiviely, it's his job and he does it well, and it is a labor of love).

If I've missed any opportunity to champion this film in any bully pulpit to which I've access at any point in about the last year or so, it was a grievous mistake. :)

#113 Nick Olson

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 11:28 AM

I'll defend Jeffrey's comment. I don't think Of Gods and Men's unpopularity is confined to the "Movieguide" types.

And I think Jeffrey's article specifically mentions "mainstream evangelicalism." That identifier makes sense to his argument, and strikes me as true.

#114 Anders

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 11:34 AM

I'll defend Jeffrey's comment. I don't think Of Gods and Men's unpopularity is confined to the "Movieguide" types.

And I think Jeffrey's article specifically mentions "mainstream evangelicalism." That identifier makes sense to his argument, and strikes me as true.


Yes, you're right his article does specifically mention "evangelicals." And this means his question "Why has this film not caught on in the circles who were so eager to embrace FIREPROOF, COURAGEOUS, etc.?" has a very simple answer: most evangelicals do not consider Roman Catholics to be Christians.

(Heck, members of my wife's family also seem to have some doubt whether the Anglican church we attend is sufficiently "Christian.")

#115 SDG

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 11:39 AM

Yes, you're right his article does specifically mention "evangelicals." And this means his question "Why has this film not caught on in the circles who were so eager to embrace FIREPROOF, COURAGEOUS, etc.?" has a very simple answer: most evangelicals do not consider Roman Catholics to be Christians.

I'm Roman Catholic and might be expected to concur, but I don't. (Many Evangelicals love movies like A Man for All Seasons and The Mission, and those are pretty Catholic.)

I think it's less that Evangelicals don't consider Catholics to be real Christians than that mainstream American audiences, including Evangelicals, don't consider foreign films to be real movies.

#116 Nick Olson

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 11:41 AM

Yes, I'd say that may be a significant answer.

Though, I think the most significant one is the one that Jeffrey addresses: Of Gods and Men is made by an artist, not an evangelist. It's the same reason The Tree of Life, Lucky Life, and The Mill and the Cross aren't going to be popular among mainstream evangelicals. It's a question of what they desire from the cineplex.

And I say that as a Protestant who believes Catholics are Christians.

(sorry, this was in reply to Anders before I saw SDG's response)

Edited by Nicholas, 28 February 2012 - 11:42 AM.


#117 Overstreet

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 11:43 AM

All I'm saying is this: If you poll most students at Christians universities, I'll bet the vast majority have never seen it, and even more, that a majority couldn't tell you what it's about or that they've even heard of it. I suspect that most of them wouldn't watch it even if they were invited. The subject matter just isn't appealing to them. That may be, in part, because of an anti-Catholic prejudice. But I'm arguing that the subject matter is uninteresting to them beyond denominational or traditional preferences. There's just nothing sexy or exciting about monks serving the poor.

I brought a copy to a large gathering of well-known, Catholic-embracing Christian writers a couple of months ago. This was an open-minded, culture-embracing, moviegoing assembly. About half of them had never seen it and didn't know what it was about. I was astonished.

If you had asked these same groups about Facing the Giants or Fireproof, my impression is that the numbers would be very, very different.

So no, I wasn't just talking about the Movieguide audience.

And I think it's fair to say that the majority of mainstream evangelical Christians don't read CT movie reviews, or Crosswalk, or anything like that. (I'm aware of those positive reviews.)

If I asked the 20 Christians in this office around me, at a so-called "liberal Christian university", I'd be surprised if even three of them had seen this film.

Edited by Overstreet, 29 February 2012 - 03:46 PM.


#118 Nick Olson

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 11:46 AM

This may damage my future credibility on these forums, but I graduated from Liberty University.

And I have to say: Jeffrey is absolutely right in his comment on Christian universities. The reason I know his commentary is true is because I fought the uphill battle of being in a fine English/lit program in the middle of almost all of the worst evangelical stereotypes.

#119 M. Leary

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 11:51 AM

I love Ozu and Dreyer and other masterful framers of images. I wouldn't put Of Gods and Men in their company, but that's no slam against it. Very few films rise to that level.


Oddly, during the two times I have watched it, the standard contemplative cinema auteurs haven't come to mind. It doesn't seem interested in the math and angles of transcendence. What it continues to bring to mind are Civeyrac, Gatlif, Jacquot and a few other relatively recent French directors that hit on a nice mode of naturalism with their direction that isn't caught up in the baggage of more complex brands of mise-en-scene. I think the film is a very fine example of that seam in French cinema. It is a form of cinema that doesn't overthink itself.

If Varda made a film about the same events, it would probably look almost exactly like this.

Which is good. I think if the film had been cast in more transcendent or visually polished hues, we would lose the film's real gravitas - which is the depiction of an organic embodiment of justice as a missional calling. What these monks do is not transcedent; it is social, worldy, and material in an immensely charitable way. A film with a more transcendental mise-en-scene would have subverted this aspect of their Christological witness.

#120 Anders

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Posted 28 February 2012 - 11:54 AM

I think it's less that Evangelicals don't consider Catholics to be real Christians than that mainstream American audiences, including Evangelicals, don't consider foreign films to be real movies.


I love this. Very true.

However, let me rephrase: perhaps when asked, "Are Catholics 'real Christians' many mainstream Evangelicals would admit, yes. But, there is still a deep suspicion about Roman Catholic practice, and I suspect (as JO notes below) that many of them find the whole concept of monks odd and suspicious ("These men don't even have sex!", and, thus, can't participate in the thing that Evangelicals are most preoccupied with. No opportunity for a "every man's struggle" scene ala FIREPROOF).

I further suspect that many of us belong to rather ecumenically minded Christian communities, supported by the fact that we're posting here.

All I'm saying is this: If you poll most students at Christians universities, I'll bet the vast majority have never seen it, and even more, that a majority couldn't tell you what it's about or that they've even heard of it. I suspect that most of them wouldn't watch it even if they were invited. The subject matter just isn't appealing to them. That may be, in part, because of an anti-Catholic prejudice. But I'm arguing that the subject matter is uninteresting to them beyond denominational or traditional preferences. There's just nothing sexy or exciting about monks serving the poor.


You're probably right, that they would phrase it in terms of the subject matter. And I'm arguing that the lack of interest or dismissal of the subject matter is rooted in a deep seated world-view within mainstream Evangelical culture (another reason that I've drifted away from that culture in recent years).





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