In 1996 seven French monks were beheaded in Algeria, capping two months spent as hostages of an armed Muslim group during that country’s decade-long civil war. But it’s barely a footnote of a story that is almost impossible to grasp in a country where true faith is a fleeting concept.
Things start to go bad at the monastery in Algeria around Christmas 1995, when rebel forces reach the monks’ rural mountain valley home. After they reject the rebel force’s demands for medicine and help out of principles of peace, the extremists vow to return under different terms. The monks are faced with a choice to leave the valley and return to France or waiting out the inevitable.
It’s this deliberation that makes up the soul of the movie, whose empathy resides not just for the monks, but for villagers and fundamentalists too. In the face of the inevitable, they’re all just people, and somehow it makes everything more powerfully effective. --Michael Byrne