9 French Monks Face Crisis In 'Of Gods And Men'

The French equivalent of the Academy Awards were given out in Paris on Friday. The film Of Gods and Men won three. The film opened over the weekend in the U.S.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now, Americans face many choices as their leaders argue over the budget. We're going to hear next about some far more personal choices. The story of those choices led to the film "Of Gods and Men." Kenneth Turan has our review.

KENNETH TURAN: "Of Gods and Men" is based on the true story of a life-and-death crisis faced by nine French monks in a monastery in Algeria's Atlas Mountains in the mid-1990s. The film emphasizes from the start how well the monks fit into the village's Muslim community. They provide needed medical care, enjoy easy relations with the local religious leaders, and are invited to family celebrations.

(Soundbite of movie, "Of Gods and Men")

(Soundbite of celebratory music and cheering)

TURAN: These unassuming monks and villagers don't realize it, but they're living in a paradise on earth. As is the case with all paradises, it's inevitable that there will be a shattering fall.

(Soundbite of movie, "Of Gods and Men")

(Soundbite of shouting)

TURAN: That fall comes in the form of the first stirrings of Islamic fundamentalism. A gang of terrorists slaughters a group of nearby Croatian construction workers.

(Soundbite of movie, "Of Gods and Men")

(Soundbite of gunfire, crowd chatter)

TURAN: After this incident, the killers make a nighttime visit to the monastery that makes it clear that the monks could be next. "Of Gods and Men" pulls us in as the monks decide whether to stay or to go. Each monk has a different crisis of faith. One by one, they face issues of personal responsibility, of religious vocation, of how to lead your life.

Is leaving prudence or cowardice? Is staying protecting the flock, or committing collective suicide? There are no easy answers to questions like these, and "Of Gods and Men" has the wonderful grace not to pretend otherwise.

INSKEEP: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

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