"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

‘Of Gods and Men’, ‘Into Great Silence’, ‘Russian Ark’ Film Reviews


Of Gods and Men is a good film, set in a monastery in the Atlas mountains of Algeria at the beginning of the recent civil war.  Eight older men, all of whom have been in the monastery for years and until the time of the film have known nothing but a peaceful, idyllic existence of prayer, solitude, growing, and helping and friendly interaction with the residents of the villages around.  The civil war begins, and they get caught up in it.  They debate their reaction to the violence around them.  Should they care for everyone, regardless of their complicity in murder?  Should they leave, or stay as a sign of solidarity with the villagers among whom they have lived for so long?  They stay, and are executed.

The scenes of the monastery are the most compelling for their depiction of a removed life of contemplation and brotherhood.   While Into Great Silence does not feature brotherhood, it is a remarkable look into monastic life.  For the two hours of the film there is but a few minutes of talking, and yet the film is never boring.  There is an eloquence and poetry in the sound of the leaves of a prayer book being turned; the creaking of a wooden pew, an echoed cough.  There is a beauty in the preparation of meals with the simplest of implements, and a reverence for the silence at meals.  The shots of the monks tending garden, those of the outlines of snow-covered roofs, stunning.

Russian Ark is a unique and beautiful film.  Shot at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, it is both a recreation of 200 years of Russian history and a look into one of the greatest museums in the world.  It, like Of Gods and Men but particularly Into Great Silence the movie takes the view through each of the rooms of the museum in which actors are playing out scenes from Russian history.  So at once it is the Czars’ winter palace and a museum.  There are quiet scenes of just one or two of the royal family rustling through a room, or pageantry when the King of Persia makes a state visit.  There is nothing like it.

In all three, the silence itself (or the silence interrupted only by the quiet sounds of living) is an actor in the film.

I have been told that the mime production of King Lear in Washington was remarkable.  At first I, like most people, said “What? Shakespeare without words?”, but why not? A physically evocative mime ballet interpretation of his works.  I am sorry I missed it.

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