Nine monks eat supper around a refectory table. Wordlessly, they sip from unaccustomed glasses of red wine as a cassette player fills the room with the soaring strings of Swan Lake. Some of them weep. They all know they will soon be dead.
This piercingly simple, lengthy scene is at the core of director Xavier Beauvois's Of Gods and Men, a powerful yet reflective French film which is now in strong contention for the title of most unexpected box-office hit ever.
Released in Britain this Friday, it tells the fictionalised story of real-life Cistercian monks who in 1996 held out in their hillside abbey in Algeria, enduring near siege conditions as the country descended into factional violence. The film was made for only €4m (£3.4m), then took more than twice that at the box office in France. Audience figures have now swept past the three million mark: an achievement unheard of for a small-budget arthouse production.
Of Gods and Men won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in the summer and is now the official French candidate for best foreign film at the Oscars.