The 1996 kidnapping and murder of seven French monks from an Algerian monastery is the basis for this profoundly moving drama from director Xavier Beauvois. With random attacks of violence by an Islamic fundamentalist group on the rise, the monks - led by brother superior Christian (Lambert Wilson), realise it's only a matter of time before they are targeted. However, they are reluctant to desert the village for which they provide medical care and have become a part of. An intense and thoughtful fllm about the all-conquering strength of faith.
Eight French Cistercian monks live a tough yet idyllic life among the Muslim inhabitants of a ramshackle Algerian village in the Atlas Mountains.
Their daily activities - bee-keeping, cultivation of the land, and the provision of health care for the local poor - are structured around group prayer and silent contemplation.
However, it is the early 1990s and the political climate is changing. Unforgiving Islamic fundamentalism is on the march, demanding that foreigners leave the country. To show they mean business an immigrant gang of Croatian workers have had their throats slit.
The monks' dilemma is clear: should they stay or should they go?
Director Xavier Beauvois' quietly powerful drama explores the terrible choices faced by the monks as they decide to remain...but tacitly acknowledge that it will mean their death.
The Matrix's Lambert Wilson impresses as the ascetic Christian, the bookish superior who allows the monks to make their own decisions and has the backbone to firmly stand up to a guerrilla leader who disturbs their Christmas Eve prayer.
It's this vaguely sympathetic Islamic killer who acts as a protector...but when he's captured by French soldiers and dragged to his death behind a truck even this vestige of safety is removed.
One of the most touching scenes sees the monks - revelling in secular pleasures such as red wine and Tchaikovsky on a ghetto blaster - pondering their fate, some smiling, some shedding a tear. It's an indelible set of images.