Last night the Oxford Benedictine Oblates group marked the feast of St Antony, the founder of monasticism, by going out for dinner after the evening Mass at St Aloysius and then returned to watch the film Of Gods and Men at the Oratory.
The film, from 2010, won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival and critical acclaim. It is the story of the Trappist monks of Tibhirine in Algeria, seven of whom were taken hostage and killed in 1996 during the insurgency against the government. There is more about the film here and about the specific events of 1996 here.
The film is paced, at times leisurely, in depicting the life of these French monks in the Atlas mountains and their friendly realations with the Muslim villagers at the gates of the monastry, before it moved to the increasing menace facing them and the agonising question of whether to stay or flee. At times this made me think about the issues facing English monks in the 1530s.
Visually much of it is beautiful - filmed in Morrocco at another monastery - and the north African landscape perhaps surprising. It is however beautiful in two other, deeper, ways. There is the beauty of a faithfully lived out Benedictine life of ordered prayer and stability, conveyed very well by the actors and film makers. There is, supremely, the beauty of martyrdom - that monastic life led to its conclusion of union with Christ in the disciplined self surrender arising from fidelity to a vocation.
The subject matter is, of course grim, but it is not a depressing film. It is a thoughtful and thought-inspiring film. I recommend highly it to anyone interested. It also is a very good film as the critics said - the acting is superb, with carefully observed and nuanced performances from the actors - who, from photographs, seem to have been cast very much to look like the men they were playing.
I do not know if the cause of the monks of Tibhirine has been formally started or introduced to the Holy See - from seeing the film and reading a bit about the background it ought to be.