Decent Films Mail > Mailbag #24

Re: Of Gods and Men (2010)

I was the monastic advisor on Of Gods and Men, and your piece is probably the best I’ve read so far. If you want to know more about the making of the movie, you should read my book (in French or Italian) Secret des hommes, secret des dieux (Presses de la Renaissance), in which I try and explain how the Holy Spirit worked throughout the whole process of this incredible movie.

The monks of Tibhirine were my friends and still are. Xavier Beauvois and his team came to meet them, and I can even witness to the fact that snow fell and melted for the final shot against all odds.

You seem to imply that only “nonbelievers” worked on this movie, but I am a devout Christian and I was there right from the beginning to the very end. I just wanted you to know because God can make himself known without our contribution, but usually He asks us to give a hand. I was blessed to be chosen here in an amazing fashion, as I explain in my book. Everything from A to Z seemed to come from Him. God bless you!

Henry Quinson, Marseilles, France

Dear Mr. Quinson,

I’m deeply gratified by your kind note. The privilege of writing about Of Gods and Men remains a high point in my critical career; I have sometimes felt as if God called me to be a film critic to write about this film, and my first 10 years on the job were preparation.

I wish I read French or Italian so that I could read your book. I have read many accounts of the movie production process, and seen the hand of God at work in some of them, but I would love to know more about the stories you have to tell about this film.

I believe you are alluding to a remark in my essay “How Catholic Is Of Gods and Men?” characterizing the film as “not made by believers for believers.” That phrase “by believers for believers” is certainly not meant to imply that no believers worked on the film; I would never presume to say such a thing about any film in the world! In this case I knew that some people involved in making the film (including, I have heard, at least one of the actors playing one of the main characters) were believers, so that was not my intent at all.

Rather, I meant to distinguish the film from the phenomenon of what we sometimes call in English a “faith-based film,” meaning a film created by a production company with explicitly religious identity and mission, very often sponsored by or affiliated with a church or parachurch organization, and written by, directed by and usually starring believers, resulting in a film that, whatever the filmmakers may have hoped would be its evangelistic appeal to nonbelievers, in fact effectively winds up “preaching to the choir” of the filmmakers’ fellow believers.

As you know, Of Gods and Men received overwhelming critical acclaim and won the Grand Prix at Cannes, among many other accolades, and did very well with the public, topping the French box office for four weeks and outperforming distributor expectations here in the United States. It is a film that speaks powerfully to audiences who do not share the monks’ faith — in part, I think, because Xavier Beauvois and Etienne Comar approached the material with the same sort of artistic objectivity that they would bring to any subject, in terms of its human interest rather than its religious significance (though of course the monks’ religious beliefs were part of that human interest). This is what I meant by “not made by believers for believers.”

Thanks again for writing. I would be happy to hear from you again.

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