I seem to fall between the two camps of critical reaction. The majority who feel this is a classic, great film,
or the sizable minority who call the film boring, historically inaccurate, and all surface. I lean strongly
to the positive, but I understand the complaints, e.g., being bothered that the film never really examines
how hated the French were for their earlier colonialism. That larger context is part of what makes these
Brothers targets. One passing mention is hardly enough to deal with a huge element of the underpinnings
of the story.
Exploring that would only make the Brothers seem even more brave and help us understand that they took
a huge risk just to be there even before things get 'bad'. At the same time it would make the hatred they
faced from the terrorists and the Army not just seem like random 'evil' but something that had roots.
To be clear, that hatred and violence is unforgivable. But understanding how something happened, or why
your enemy hates you is part of the path to peace. It is something these wise, well-read monks would have
known about and must have been part of their thoughts and discussions, though its largely avoided here.
I also agree that the film is slow in parts, sometimes needed to establish the rhythm of the monks' lives,
but other times getting repetitive with no seeming advantage.
In addition, besides the two main characters, the other monks are largely one-note sketches, and the
sudden turn around of those who wanted to leave - maybe the most fascinating action in the film - is
largely under explored. Some of the time spent used on repeated rituals or re-tread conversations could
have been used to deepen the understanding of those men and their heartrending confusion.
It also bothered me that those who wanted to leave are never given strong or convincing arguments.
They're almost made to seem cowardly, or 'wrong'. The film could have gone further in it's compassion
towards these men, understanding that this was a complex decision, even on a theological level. When
does God want us to martyr ourselves and when would God rather we not sacrifice the gift of life to find
a way to live to fight another day? I can think of a number of third choices between surrender and simply
running away. These men must have examined those options, but there is little sign of it here. I have no
problem with the film's conclusion, but I wish it had felt both sides presented with equal weight and
seriousness, as I assume must have happened among the real monks.
But my biggest problem is that the film's style, while inviting thought, is somewhat emotionally distancing, so
while my brain was deeply engaged, my heart was less so than I wish it was. I wanted to weep for these men
and for the world, but I found myself more caught in mind than in emotions. I believe the story was strong
enough to carry both sides.
Now, all that said, I still think, unlike many of the professional critics that raised these points, that this is a very,
very good film, made with intelligence and passion. It is visually simple but stunning to look at. Its slow pace adds
to the meditative feel that eschews inflating drama for its own sake, and allows us a taste of the peace these men
experience by living in their simple, giving way, even in the midst of war. And there are scenes of sheer brilliance,
where whole stories are told on peoples' faces with little or no dialogue. Scenes where a combination of photography
and acting capture a huge range of complex emotions. We watch fear, joy, transcendence, defeat, and loss run through
the hearts of these men within seconds of each other without a word needing to be said, That is film-making of a high order.
Ultimately, this is a film that deserves and needs to be seen. A plea for peace and courage in the face of hatred. But that
doesn't mean it isn't a flawed work, or that acknowledging those flaws dismisses those very good things the film does