An intense, slow moving film, it tells the true story of a small Cistercian (I think that's right rather than Trappist which some reviews have) monastery in Algeria and the monks struggle of faith and commitment to their community and to the local community in the face of a corrupt government and on the other hand of local Islamic extremists who see them as Western interlopers. The film gets inside the interior life of the monastery showing the liturgical life of faith as well as the interior struggle of the monks - being offered an easy exit by the government - but there is their long history of being there for their Muslim neighbours.I'd guess that being familiar with both faiths helps in understanding the film's journey. There's many very moving moments both in dialogue and in silence, a scene herding sheep comes to my mind, as well as the set-piece towards the end of the monks listening to Swan Lake and drinking wine together - I was reminded of Jean Renoir's film Au Revoir les Enfants - and it's use of Schubert - another example of a religious community under attack. This review is worth a read:
These Christians mean different things to people near them. To Algerian neighbors in their small town, they’re a source of free medicine and advice, not to mention homemade jam (looked like honey to me!) sold at a local market. To a government official who’s supposed to protect them, they’re a headache.
To the local army captain, who knows they succour anyone in need, they’re an aid to terrorism. And to the fundamentalist jihadists, these monks become many things: a willing or unwilling source of supplies, a mysterious force to be respected, a bargaining tool in times of war.
The above is a clip of the first contact between the monks and the jihadists - you'll find a link to the trailer for the film on the Silk Screen site (link at top of this posting) - I thought that traler gave tmeaning to my title but it only includes fragments of the exchange so here's the full (but very short!) clip!
Here's a link to the Guardian review.