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20 San Diego Uptown News | Mar. 18–31, 2011

WHAT'S UP!/FEATURE “Of Gods and Men”—untroubled souls in enemy territory

“Of Gods and Men” Directed by Xavier Beauvois Written by Xavier Beauvois (dialog) and Etienne Comar (screenplay) Starring: Lambert Wilson, Michael Lon- sdale, Olivier Rabourdin and Philippe Laudenbach Rating: HHHHH

Ten minutes into Mel Gib- son’s “The Passion of the Christ” a question bigger than the cross they crucified Jesus on took up permanent residence in this Jew’s head: “Where’s the love?” Why would anyone fork over 10 bucks to see their single greatest source of strength and inspiration repeat- edly beaten and degraded (in a manner reminiscent of a George Romero “Living Dead“ picture) by a horde of blood thirsty Roman soldiers? No wonder Americans cushion Easter with fuzzy pastel chicks and yummy chocolate bun- nies; the reality is too much to en- dure.

“Of Gods and Men” presents us with a group of untroubled souls bivouacked in enemy terri- tory who risk their lives to spread

a message of peace and faith. I may have finally seen the love, but the fact remains this one is going to be a hard sell. The first reason people will

probably give for wanting to take a pass is the subject matter. The sto- ry is based on incidents that took place in Tibhirine between 1993- 1996. A group of eight French Christian monks stationed in a remote Algerian monastery live peacefully alongside their Muslim brothers until a nearby massacre of Croatian workers places the re- ligious community under threat of Islamic fundamentalists. It’s up to the group to decide whether they stay or go.

The next gripe is bound to be over the film’s pace. Cistercian- Trappists prefer a life of silence and by nature do not move quick- ly. Needless to say, the tempo of Xavier Beauvois’ direction reflects this. We are exposed to a lifestyle that devotes many a waking hour to Thanksgiving. While most folks dine in front of their TV sets, these men have prayers read aloud to them during meals. A great deal of time is spent inside the chapel ob-

serving their daily rituals. These privileged moments—we sit


“A group of eight French Christian monks sta- tioned in a remote Al- gerian monastery live peacefully alongside their Muslim brothers until a nearby massacre of Croatian workers places the religious community under threat of Islamic fundamentalists. It’s up to the group to decide whether they stay or go.”

tening to the quiet hum of their chants while gazing at a pinprick- sized orange glow radiating from a candle behind the pulpit—are there for a reason. We need to see how this peaceful assemblage spends days in quiet devotion, par- ticularly when weighed against the events that are about to unfold. For the first half of the film, we

observe the scenes in the chapel from the monks’ point-of-view. After a Christmas Eve visit from a band of cut-throat rebel extrem- ists in search of a doctor to help tend to their wounded, everything is literally and figuratively placed in his care. Not only do the men uniformly choose to risk their lives for God and country, the next time we enter the chapel we do so from behind the pulpit looking out at the flock. The terrorists aren’t the only obstacle. The government begs them to relocate, but “flowers do not move to find light.” Their re- sistance is viewed as collective suicide,

but Brother Christian (Lambert Wilson) insists that the

army and village officials remain outside the monastery walls. Christian knows that it’s peace

he’s after, but has no idea how to go about achieving the desired end result. Christian likens his soldiers to birds on a branch— until it’s pointed out to him that they are the branch. It’s a por- trait of gallant men stranded in a remote outpost and facing almost certain defeat. If you can get past the pace, what we have here is the makings of a classic John Ford, John Wayne western. After the final vote is in, Beau-

vois affords his characters one last moment of dignity. Shown in isolated close-ups, we feel a sense of relief watching each man’s re- alization that this ultimate act of devotion is their destiny. It’s very rare that a film gets me thinking about faith and spirituality, let alone stating its ecumenical trea- tise in such rich visual terms. It’s unlikely that a better film will play San Diego this year. I hope you’ll make the trip to Landmark’s La Jolla before “Of Gods and Men” ends its exclusive engagement on March 24.u

Golden Hill’s Women’s Hall of Fame honors new inductees By Elena Buckley SDUN Editorial Assistant On March 12, Golden Hill’s

Women’s Hall of Fame inducted six San Diego residents. For the 10th year, the Women’s Museum of California—along with the San Diego County Commis- sion on the Status of Women, the University of California, San Diego Women’s Center and the San Diego State University’s Women’s Stud- ies Department—honored women who are trailblazers, empower other women, are noted activists, act as cultural bridge builders and historians, and embody the spirit of the Women’s Hall of Fame. This year, Rita Sanchez won for being an activist and creator of

structural change. Currently a pro- fessor emeritus at Mesa College in the English and Chicana/Chicano Studies departments, Sanchez cre- ated and taught the first Chicana women’s course and the first Chi- cano writing class at Stanford Uni- versity while she was a graduate student in 1973. Her trailblazing later led to curriculum changes at other colleges and universities. She also proposed publishing

journals of Chicana writings by fe- male students, an idea that was un- heard of at the time. “[It] seemed urgent to me,” San-

chez said. Sanchez herself wrote an es-

say regarding her journey titled, “Chicana Writer: Breaking out of Silence,” which has since been

added to a collection of writings, “Chicana Feminist Thought: The Basic Historical Writings.” San- chez said the collection still helps teach women the importance of writing and contributes to their un- derstanding of the Women’s Civil Rights Movement.

“A couple of my colleagues

said, ‘You know, every time a wom- an writes, she quotes your article that you wrote in the 1970s,’” San- chez said.

After becoming the first full

tenured female faculty member at SDSU in the Mexican Ameri- can Studies Department, Sanchez again made structural changes to a school’s curriculum—which have since become requirements for SDSU—to include Women’s Stud-

ies into the Chicana/Chicano Stud- ies Department. Sanchez expressed how in-

credible it feels to know that she’s touched so many women’s lives, saying that being inducted is both an honor and a dream come true. “I wondered about [my work] … when I won the award,” San- chez said. “I had to look back at myself and my life, and it’s funny, because some of the things that you accom- plish in your life, you don’t realize the importance of until years later.” Another inductee, Judy Forman,

Owner of Big Kitchen Café in South Park at 3003 Grape St., was lauded for empowering women

“I guess I’m a civil rights activ- ist, and I work very hard to make

sure that women are empowered and that they realize that they have their own lovely gifts,” said For- man. “We do not have to be depen- dent on men for survival or recogni- tion, and that really frees us up to be much more creative.” Although she always credits others for their contributions to her many accomplishments, Forman never stops moving and has had her hands on countless causes, fun- draisers and endeavors. She has worked with the Wom- en’s History Museum, for numer- ous women’s rights causes, and she started the first gay youth group in the Uptown area at Big Kitchen Café. Forman also started the Golden Hill CDC, where she ran the afterschool program at Brook- lyn Elementary in South Park for five years. Other credits include performing in the “Vagina Mono- logues,” “Wicked,” and being part of the Farm Worker’s Union and Act Up San Diego at the beginning of the AIDS crisis. Forman is a social worker but

has also run Big Kitchen Café for 30 years, along with her catering business. She notes that after tak- ing off her many hats, she likes to treat her dogs to an hour of free playtime at Grape Street Park so they can “be themselves.” “I’m a woman who realized that change doesn’t happen by itself,” said Forman. “You get to partici- pate, and you need to bring your values, your enthusiasm and your sense of humor with you. If you’ve got the passion and the focus and the desire, you can help change the culture.” Forman went on to explain that although a lot has changed for women in San Diego, a lot still has to happen. “It’s scary. I think it’s because

whenever the goddess puts any- thing on my path to do, I just need to do it. I just want the women of today—the young women, the old women—to realize that we cannot let things slip and slide. We have to be aware, and we have to be sure that the patriarchy does not take our power away again.”u

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