Xavier Beauvois' film, already a hit in Cannes and now the French entry for the Best Foreign Film at the Oscars, completely justifies the advance heat.
It is based upon the true story of a hillside monastery in Algeria where eight Cistercian monks live in harmonious union with their Muslim neighbours, mostly poor farming folk for whom they provide medical assistance. The film's meditative pace is dictated by the monks' daily routine – prayer, reflection, farming – which is now under threat from terrorist insurgents in the area. Lambert Wilson plays the order's head, resisting the authorities' urge to leave yet painfully alive to the peril in which he and his brothers exist. The atmosphere of dread gathers and the debate becomes ever more anguished – "Does dying here serve a purpose?" – yet Beauvois' serene direction and the individual performances raise this moral drama towards something quite numinous. It is a celebration of spiritual humility in the face of earthly contingency, and its expressive humanity can hardly fail to move.