God’s Kingdom is worth everything we have! That is the message of Jesus’ Treasure and Pearl Parables. It is also the message of a marvelous movie seen by so few. It is the story of a community of Cistercian monks in Algeria in the early 1990’s, who have close relationships with their Muslim neighbors but who must decide whether to stay or leave when they are threatened by Islamic militants.
As I mentioned in the parable sermon (linked here), we intend to show and discuss the film at Christ Church in the future. Until then here are two reviews:
1. A 12 min. video review from Religion and Ethics News Weekly that shows much of a “last supper” scene that has been called one of the most transcendent ever filmed.
2. A portion of the review from Books and Culture: A Christian Review by Brett McCracken (July/August 2011).
Whatever they decide, one thing is clear: The monks are committed to making the decision as a group. Several conversations between the men ensue, revealing a model process for how tough decisions can be reached in community and how issues of individuality, sacrifice, and hierarchy can peacefully be negotiated with wisdom and charity. It’s an environment of openness, where all perspectives are welcomed, including fear and doubt. One younger monk in particular (Olivier Rabourdin) struggles with apprehension about staying and lets his frustrations show. Eventually the monks do arrive at a conclusion: They’ll stay.
In one of the film’s most remarkable sequences, the monks sit silently at the U-shaped communal dinner table, pondering the decision they’ve made together. One of the monks puts on an old tape of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, which, as it builds and climaxes, leads the men to a state of sublime contentedness. Letting the music wash over them, sensing the Last Supper solemnity of the occasion, they seem united by the conviction that—even in the face of death—beauty prevails. Cinematographer Carline Champetier captures the moment by tenderly observing the monks’ faces in gradually closer framing, so that by the climax of the music we get glimpses of each man’s face in extreme closeup, revealing joy, tears, resolve, and oneness in Christ.