By the Grace of God (François Ozon, 2019)
What’s this all about?
Three victims of child abuse get together to fight the priest who molested them and the church that now protects him.
Forgive Me, Father, For I Have Sinned
By the Grace of God is a straightforward but no less engaging account of a notorious court case in France where nine men put the priest who sexually assaulted them on trial. But if François Ozon takes a more formal and grounded approach for his latest film, it’s because there’s no room for his usual sleaziness to deal with such a touchy subject as this one.
The movie focuses on three of its victims in three interconnected chapters. These distinct personalities help Ozon to move away from stereotypes and highlight the contrasts between each other. The fact that all of them are straight men, for example, refutes that retrograde idea that sexual orientation can be manipulated during childhood. Not only the way these terrible events affected them is different in each case, but the three lead characters also have different reactions and objectives: Alexandre (Melvil Poupaud) wants priest Preynat (Bernard Verley) to stop working near children, Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud) wants punishment, and François (Denis Ménochet) finds this whole media attention quite stimulating. By the Grace of God tries to answer as well why victims don’t speak at the time—because of family pressure or religious believes, because they didn’t feel it was wrong at the time or because they were freaking kids who can’t fully comprehend what’s happening.
Ozon manages to cover every single point of view and reaction without overloading the movie with too much information and tells a devastating story without being manipulative.
By the Grace of God wrapped filming before the trial ended and a sentence was imposed. Nothing happens at the end. Nothing ever happens at the end because this is based on true events, and reality is much more frustrating than fiction. The culprits hardly paid for their sins, but at least laws were changed.
Preynat’s unashamed guiltless confession.
Thank God these events are subject to the statute of limitation
Those who want to know and fight for the truth.
Good companion pieces
While By the Grace of God is about the victims, Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight focuses on the media and The Club, by Pablo Larraín, on the perpetrators. Now it is time for a movie that focuses on the judicial system so we can thoroughly see why everything goes so blatantly unpunished.
What a cast, mon Dieu. It is so difficult to choose only one actor as Ozon gives everyone room to shine, but Swann Arnaud would be the MVP as he subtly avoids becoming a stereotyped version of a broken, volatile man.
Laure Gardette’s editing doesn’t get lost with its immense cast of characters and subplots. It might be too lineal but makes the story unfold in a cohesive and fast-paced way.
Why am I watching this?
Good reviews at the Berlin International Film Festival.
The couple sitting next to me were completely lost in terms of characters. And who is this?, they asked each other several times. They even confused Emmanuel with Didier, a very minor character who’s only in one scene, because they were both wearing a moustache.
For Your Consideration
Best Movie - Best Director: François Ozon - Best Actor: Melvil Poupaud - Best Supporting Actor (because they show up later in the film): Denis Ménochet, Swann Arnaud - Best Supporting Actor (because he’s actually a supporting character): Bernard Verley - Best Supporting Actress: Josiane Balasko - Best Performance by an Actor in a Limited Role: Pierre Lottin - Best editing: Laure Gardette - Best ensemble cast