New respect for brother Lambert Wilson
Film of the Week: Star of two Hollywood flops turns in brilliant performance in ‘Of Gods and Men’
The French film Of Gods and Men (Des hommes et des dieux), released in Britain this week, helps prove how quickly a film actor’s reputation can shift from the ridiculous to the sublime.
French actor Lambert Wilson is associated with two of the biggest Hollywood flops of recent years – Catwoman, which garnered Halle Berry and her co-stars some of the worst reviews of their lives, and Sahara, the action comedy that lost nearly $100m. (Back in the 1980s, Wilson also once tested for James Bond – but the producers decided to stick with an Englishman and gave the part to Timothy Dalton instead.)
Now he’s popped up playing a monk in a film that has won plaudits ever since it was shown at this year’s Cannes film festival, where members of the audience were reduced to tears by the beautifully filmed story and by Wilson’s subtle performance in the lead.
Xavier Beauvois’s film is set in the Atlas mountains of Algeria in the mid-1990s. It tells the story of a group of Cistercian monks led by Brother Christian (Wilson) who have been living in harmony with the local Muslims, providing a doctor’s surgery for the villagers and selling their honey at the market, when political events get out of hand.
The monks show great respect for the Muslims, even discussing the Koran with the local mujahideen. But with foreigners being slaughtered by Islamic fundamentalists, the monks must decide whether to sacrifice their life’s work or risk dying as martyrs.
As Kate Muir of the Times wrote after the Cannes screening, "One of the most gut-wrenching scenes shows the monks before the altar continuing to sing above the sound of a helicopter gunship swooping again and again, menacing the monastery on its peaceful mountain. As someone says, staying there is a mad as becoming a monk in the first place."
Many critics have picked out Wilson’s portrayal of Brother Christian for special mention. Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal praised his "heart-stopping eloquence" in the role while Muir of the Times wrote: "Wilson’s performance is utterly believable and masterful; his inner struggle plays in silence on his features. Some sort of award is surely coming his way."
Of Gods and Men will not be a big hit at the multiplexes, but the excellent reviews might well see a queue forming at the local arthouse cinema. And the film could come round again if it gets chosen as best foreign film at next year’s Oscars, where it’s in the running.
WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING:Nigel Andrews, the Financial Times: "Visually, the film could have been painted by Vermeer. Greys, pale ochres, luminous pastels fill out frames where the faces, essaying faith even in crisis, are vehicles for the most subtly fleeting, even subcutaneous emotions." (5/5 stars)
Angie Errigo, Empire: "This sublime French drama is tender and quietly terrifying, deeply beautiful and genuinely inspirational."
Jonathan Romney, Screen Daily: "This thoughtful but urgent piece shows that Beauvois has matured into a masterly director with tight, calm control of his material." ·