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Of Gods and Men Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack Review

Of Gods and Men (Des Hommes et Des Dieux) movie poster Of Gods and Men (Des Hommes et Des Dieux)

US Theatrical Release: February 25, 2011 / Running Time: 123 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Xavier Beauvois / Writers: Etienne Comar (screenplay, adaptation & dialogue), Xavier Beauvois (adaptation & dialogue)

Cast: Lambert Wilson (Christian), Michael Lonsdale (Luc), Olivier Rabourdin (Christophe), Philippe Laudenbach (Cιlestin), Jacques Herlin (Amιdιe), Loic Pichon (Jean-Pierre), Xavier Maly (Michel), Jean-Marie Frin (Paul), Olivier Perrier (Bruno), Sabrina Ouazani (Rabbia), Farid Larbi (Ali Fayattia), Adel Bencherif (Terrorist)

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The French film Of Gods and Men (Des Hommes et Des Dieux) tells the true story of a group of French Trappist monks in Algeria who found themselves endangered by political turmoil in the mid-1990s.

The eight monks, ranging in age from old to very old, have long maintained a welcome presence in the Atlas Mountains. The predominantly Muslim community relies heavily upon Brother Luc (Michael Lonsdale) for his free services as a clinic physician.
And though the rest of the monks generally keep to themselves and inside their abbey, they are fond of their adopted hometown and devoted to meeting the needs of its people.

On one Christmas Eve night, a band of terrorists enters the abbey seeking medicine. The encounter remains surprisingly civil, but it is indicative of the dangerous xenophobia that has hit the area and claimed the lives of several innocent European civilians. The monks' appointed leader Christian (Lambert Wilson) stands up to the terrorists in judgment some of his brethren come to question.

The quiet Christian invites democracy as he polls his fellow monks on whether they think the situation calls for them to return to France. The group is divided and local authorities encourage an exit. But the monks decide, out of faith and respect to their neighbors, to stay put, even as the threat of harm around them escalates.

Ailing, aging Luc (Michael Lonsdale) provides the community with an invaluable service as a free doctor. The pensive Christian (Lambert Wilson) tries to be democratic in his leadership of the Atlas Mountain monks.

Of Gods and Men is easily the most renowned film to date by director Xavier Beauvois, who also shares writing credit with producer Etienne Comar. This drama premiered at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, where it received the Grand Prix, the second place award. It would later vie for various foreign film honors and receive commendation from the National Board of Review. France chose the picture as its submission for this year's Academy Awards' Foreign Language Film category, but as it goes one out of every three years (and more like one of out every two, recently), the nation's entry did not make the cut (missing even the shortlist of nine candidates).

While I can't pretend to have seen many foreign films eligible for that Oscar (or any that were nominated), I can sort of understand the snub. Of Gods and Men has strong subject matter, a significant recent historical episode with which few people are familiar. Relevant though it may be, however, that subject matter doesn't lend itself to the most compelling of cinema.

Nothing about the monastic life is cinematic. That leaves Beauvois with two choices: pay respect to the vocation and portray it authentically or jazz it up so moviegoers won't be lulled to sleep. He opts for the former, the inevitable choice of any director getting jury acclaim at Cannes and embarking on an Oscar run. The result of that, setting aside artistic achievement momentarily, is that the film challenges the modern attention span, not only those who find Michael Bay's movies exhilarating, but even open-minded folks who try to get a mix of mainstream and independent in their film diet.

A good twenty minutes go by without anything of consequence occurring. Of course, Beauvois isn't wasting our time, but familiarizing us with the life of monks, their passionate daily devotion sure to be foreign to those who watch enough movies to see this one. The film is effective too, at easing us into the mindset of these men of the cloth, which needs to be done to understand and appreciate their decision to brave the uncertain times that paint a deadly target on them.

Seven of the French Algerian monks of "Of Gods and Men" come together in chant in defense of the loud, uncertain noises they hear outside.

Only so much drama can be squeezed out of the setting, though. The richest emerges when the ancient traditions come face to face with the armed extremists and the local military, both of whom view the monks with suspicion. Since Beauvois doesn't seem interested in embellishing or elaborating upon the facts (several of which remain unknown to this day), the film stays rather dry, depicting the deliberations of old men whose resolve is based on something we can neither see nor feel. So, the film can let the monks vote and revote, having them raise hands one at a time in a visually striking but unrealistically gradual manner. And the cast can speak with believable conviction, at least to someone understanding only their tone.
But ultimately, the greatest triumph is making us aware of an interesting and rotten occurrence and inspiring us to look into the situation further. It's a substantive film, with spiritual and historical weight elevating the competent production values. Even so, in staying true to the record and to monk rituals, it's not terribly engaging.

Of Gods and Men performed quite decently for a slow foreign film limited to 120 theaters, but the $4 million grossed stateside was a small fraction of the $27 M it grossed in its native France, where it opened last September.

It's no secret that arthouse releases do much less business than their widely-distributed competition. This must be a factor in Sony Pictures Home Entertainment's decision to release some of their latest Sony Pictures Classics movies exclusively in Blu-ray + DVD combo packs. Of Gods and Men is the division's fourth title to receive such a 2-disc set in the past two months. It seems to be a short-lived experiment; the next Sony Pictures Classic release (Morgan Spurlock's product placement documentary) is getting separate DVD and Blu-ray editions.

Some may perceive the combo practice as a shrewd, low-risk way to increase revenue at a time when the entire industry, especially specialty divisions and the home video market, has been hurting. Still, it seems fair to ask how many people out there are in the market to own a movie like Of Gods and Men on two formats? (The DVD for the minivan on the next family road trip?! Why no digital copy, while you're at it?!) Of Gods and Men even goes further than the past three SPC bundles, with its $45.99 list price being considerably higher than any standalone DVD or Blu-ray. As such, neither the DVD fan nor the Blu-ray collector can feel like they're getting their less desired format for free. And yet, you can't deny the flexibility of such a set, should DVD customers be able to notice it in its Blu-ray case.

Watch clips from Of Gods and Men:

Christian's decision discussed • Monk and terrorist's Christmas Eve chat • Theatrical trailer

Of Gods and Men Blu-ray + DVD Combo Pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

2.35:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (French)
Subtitles: English, English for Hearing Impaired
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: July 5, 2011
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $45.99
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Also available on Amazon Instant Video


Of Gods and Men is treated to a fine presentation on Blu-ray. The 2.35:1 widescreen visuals appear with excellent sharpness and an appropriate amount of fine grain. The element is clean throughout, deftly handling the dark, earthy tones without incident. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio, offered only in the original French, is largely limited to the front channels, but it offers terrific quality. The dialogue is delivered with stunning clarity and immediacy. Monastic chant is nearly the extent of the film's music, but it too is presented capably. There's also a helicopter shot that makes commanding use of the full sound field. While this quiet film isn't one you'll use to showcase your home theater, it does demonstrate the effectiveness of subtlety in sound design and a satisfying Blu-ray mix. And though closed captions have disappeared in the Blu-ray age, Sony lets you choose between an SDH subtitle track resembling them (only much clearer) and the default clean, white, easily-read non-SDH stream.

The DVD only gets non-SDH English subtitles, in yellow for easy viewing. In sampling the disc, I found its 16:9-enhanced picture and Dolby Digital 5.1 sound expectedly don't reach the Blu-ray's heights, but are great on their own merits.

"Further Investigation" shows the real Tibehirine monks appear in a photograph that was recreated by the movie's cast. Author John W. Kiser (right) ponders his answer to the question that Merrimack College philosophy professor George Heffernan asks.


Of Gods and Men has two substantial primary bonus features, both in standard definition and both unfortunately exclusive to the Blu-ray disc.

Much better than the usual making-of featurette, "The Sacrificed Tibehirine: Further Investigation" (18:37) is a French report on the film and the events it dramatizes.
It demonstrates the strong resemblance the cast bears to the real monks, whose family members are interviewed and their memories shared. Optional English subtitles translate the French audio.

Next comes "Merrimack College Augustine Dialogue IX with Author John W. Kiser" (40:50), an interview with the American author of The Monks of Tibhirine, a book the production consulted but did not adapt. In this valuable and atypical inclusion (whose low-tech presentation is excused in an opening disclaimer), George Heffernan, a philosophy professor from the Catholic Massachusetts college, speaks with Kiser about his Algerian research and experiences. Answering many of the questions the film raises, the author is clear, candid, and insightful, even describing certain events dramatized in the movie.

Of Gods and Men's U.S. trailer (2:08, HD) is kindly preserved here and notable for not disguising the fact that it's a foreign film.

"Previews" plays the same ads the disc opens with, promoting Blu-ray, Inside Job, Wild Grass, Take Shelter, Exporting Raymond, and Das Boot: The Director's Cut Blu-ray.

Finally, there are BD-Live offerings. Though the section wouldn't load for me, the menu still enabled me to stream bonus feature clips from the likes of Jumanji, Battle: Los Angeles, and Beastly.

In a boneheaded move, the DVD's only extra is Of Gods and Men's theatrical trailer. If you're already only selling the DVD as the bonus disc of a pricey Blu-ray, is there any need to make the Blu-ray seem better by withholding extras from the DVD? With disc space not a concern (it's over 2 GB under DVD-9 capacity), I can't come up with any good reason why the two fine features aren't also offered to the DVD crowd. They're already in SD to begin with.

The DVD's previews differ somewhat, promoting Blu-ray via The Film Foundation restoration, Winter in Wartime, In a Better World, Take Shelter, Exporting Raymond, and Barney's Version.

The Blu-ray's menu plays clips in the sky behind a static pose while monastic chant is heard. In addition to supporting bookmarks on the movie, the disc gets bonus points for resuming the movie or extra you were watching, even after ejecting the disc and playing another one. That was at least true on my Sony player. DVD even gets a weaker menu, with simply the static poster pose and no scenes or score.

The two discs are packaged in a standard, slim Blu-ray case, the colorless DVD topped by an insert promoting Sony 3D and make.believe. In the studio's usual nice touch, the reverse of the cover artwork shows photography from the film inside the case.

In front of Morocco playing Algeria, Brother Christian (Lambert Wilson) gives his fellow monk a great hug. Ah, the greatest hug!


I have to confess that Of Gods and Men is not one of the more entertaining films around. Xavier Beauvois' film is subdued and methodical, probably more than you'd like it be. And yet, Beauvois is undoubtedly providing an experience authentic to the monks whose tale is being told, a tale captivating enough to forgive the dull stylings. You are likely to come away appreciative of discovering this story and of the respectful restraint the director and his cast employ. That doesn't mean you'll be glued to the screen and full of emotion for the 2-hour runtime.

Sony's Blu-ray + DVD combo pack offers a first-rate presentation of the film, which is no surprise. What is unexpected is just how good both of the Blu-ray's two main bonus features are. They add nearly as much value and context to this movie as Criterion's supplements add to their selections. That makes this all the more frustrating for DVD viewers, who do not get them, despite paying the set's high price tag. With patience and an open mind, Of Gods and Men proves to be a rewarding experience worth taking. But, depending on their preferred format, consumers are likely to get more than or less than they want here.

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Reviewed July 2, 2011.

Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2011 Sony Pictures Classics, Armada Films, Why Not Productions, France 3 Cinema,
and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.