By the Grace of God
- James Mottram
- 21 October 2019
François Ozon's forensic look at sexual abuse in the Catholic Church is one of his best films
François Ozon continues his remarkably diverse and prolific career with one of his best films, By the Grace of God. His eighteenth feature is unlike any other film he's made. Already dubbed 'the French Spotlight', it shares similarities to Tom McCarthy's 2015 Oscar-winner about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Ozon offers up a comparably forensic examination – but the focus is not on investigative reporters, but the victims.
As ripped from the headlines as they come – two of the main perpetrators have faced trial already this year – there is a real urgency to the story, skillfully handled by Ozon who, as usual, also scripts. It begins in 2014 with 40-year-old banking exec Alexandre (Melvil Poupaud), who – like many others – was molested back in his youth by local priest Father Bernard Preynat (Bernard Verley). Remarkably, still a devout Catholic, this buttoned-up family man decides to take action, confronting Cardinal Barbarin (François Marthouret), the Archbishop of Lyon.
While Preynat admits to his crimes, the statute of limitations means it's difficult to prosecute him, and, though the Church hierarchy feigns concern, there is little willingness to pursue it further. But gradually news of Alexandre's case reaches other victims, notably atheist François (Denis Ménochet), who – when he discovers that Preynat is still working with children – is adamant that this story must be exposed in the press.
Ozon's penchant to pass the narrative baton means a third figure, the jobless and sometimes violent Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud) comes into play – though his story feels more contrived. Largely, it's a scrupulously researched procedural that grips throughout its 137-minute running time. Occasional flashpoints – a dinner table argument between François's family, for example – add to the trauma. What results is a film that, like Spotlight, strikes a significant blow against a formerly untouchable institution.
Selected release from Fri 25 Oct.