Cannes film follows French monks killed in Algeria

Tue May 18, 2010 10:31am EDT
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By James Mackenzie

CANNES, France (Reuters) - The unsolved murder of seven French monks in Algeria during the brutal civil conflict of the 1990s is recounted in "Of Gods and Men," a somber and reflective entry at the Cannes film festival.

The seven members of a Trappist order, who lived in a monastery in Tibehirine south of Algiers, disappeared in 1996 during a savage wave of killings by both Islamist militants and government forces.

Only their severed heads were ever recovered and the exact circumstances in which they died are unclear.

Algerian authorities say the monks were abducted by militants and found dead with their throats cut two months later but that version has been questioned by several sources and France opened an official inquiry into the incident in 2004.

However director Xavier Beauvois takes no side in the controversy, focusing instead on the unhurried rhythms of life in the monastery and ending the film as they disappear with their captors up a snowy mountain path.

As the violence that pervades the country comes closer to their community, the monks are forced to choose whether to stay or leave and Beauvois shows clearly the fears and doubts they experience as they wrestle with their choice.

"In fact what interested me was the story of these men and who they were. Nobody really knows about the rest of it," he told a news conference after the well-received press screening.

"I lean toward the theory of a crime by the army but we don't really know and instead of getting into all that, I preferred to take advantage of the luck we had with the weather and the snow," he said.   Continued...

<p>Director Xavier Beauvois (C) and cast members arrive on the red carpet for the screening of the film Des Hommes et des Dieux (Of Gods and Men) in competition at the 63rd Cannes Film Festival May 18, 2010. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier</p>