"Based on the true story of a group of French monks who got caught up in the crossfire of the Algerian Civil War of the 1990s, Of Gods and Men is an exquisitely rendered depiction of this profound tragedy," finds Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail. "Fearing for their lives and ordered to leave by the Algerian authorities, the monks decide to stick around as a gesture of solidarity with the local population, with whom they've become emotionally attached. Yet even these pious men are no match for the violence that surrounds them."
"The story couldn't be timelier and [Xavier] Beauvois knows it," writes Vadim Rizov for the L: "perhaps that's why there's no overt indication of time and place. Conveniently, the head monk is named Christian (Lambert Wilson), and he runs his monastery as a community-interfaith-strengthening-type venture, studying the Koran and providing medical care for the locals. Trouble comes with guns, beards and perversions of Islamic intent, scrupulously decried by the locals. 'They haven't read the Koran!' one fulminates — a point somewhat undermined when Christian trades quotations with a fierce bandleader who storms the monastery with arms, demanding care. He leaves in peace, won over by Christian's parallel devotion; those who succeed him don't even have that scruple, an ambiguity the film glosses over."
"The clash between the monks' hopes for the future and the despair that immediately surrounds them is irreducibly knotty and it instigates a moving, almost dialectical aesthetic," writes Simon Abrams for the New York Press. "It's to [screenwriter Etienne] Comar and Beauvois's great credit that the film never boils down to academic didacticism, mostly thanks to their deeply felt sense of empathy. A celebratory scene where the monks' tentative feelings of bonhomie dissipates into tears and uncertain looks over the course of a series of close-ups is, on the outset, incredibly naive. But it's realized with such conviction that the scene becomes a shrewd, quietly externalized struggle."
"In his last film, 2005's Le Petit Lieutenant, Beauvois used deliberate pacing and a sense of distance to great effect," writes Time Out New York's David Fear. "The slow, shuffling moodiness of this occasionally violent parable, however, turns it into an action movie only an abbot could love. Still, it's worth slogging through the sluggishness for two breathtaking scenes: a 'last supper' involving Swan Lake, and a holy-shit climactic march of angels into a heavenly mist."
"I walked out of Of Gods and Men convinced I hadn't liked it." But by the end of a subway ride — and his review for the House Next Door — Aaron Cutler's changed his mind.
Earlier: Reviews from Cannes, where, for Daniel Kasman, it was "one of the growers of the festival." And Glenn Kenny: "Neither a searing, transcendent masterwork nor a mere sampling of French cinematic vin ordinaire, Xavier Beauvois' latest feature is a scrupulous, intelligent, engaging and sometimes quite moving account of what some might call inadvertent martyrdom."
Coverage of the coverage: NYFF 2010. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow The Daily Notebook on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.