A sacred monument

By the Grace of God

Film. The new movie directed by François Ozon, Jury Prize in Berlin festival, openly fights against paedophilia in Catholic Church.


By Jacques Braunstein

By the Grace of God the new François Ozon’s movie will come out on February 20. Father Preynat had asked emergency interim proceedings in order to fight against the movie for presumption of innocence but it was rejected on February 18. This pedophile priest, who will be judged on March 7, confessed his crimes several times, but Lyon’s diocese chose each time to transfer him rather than to make sure he would no longer be in touch with children.

On sent dans ce cinéma quelque chose de plus frontal et sans doute moral depuis Frantz

But the movie mainly deals with another subject. It talks about his victims who managed to overcome their trauma thanks to the association “La parole libérée”. Starting with François, played by Melvil Poupaud. Practicing Catholic, father of five children, this executive in finance who is wearing loden clothes succeedeed in life and who got married to his Catholic school’s teacher is the first one to hold the priest accountable. But the ecclesiastical administration as well as Lyon’s cardinal Monseigneur Barbarin are not willing to do more than registering his complaint. Offering him a painful and surrealistic face to face with his persecutor. This part, real trip on the Catholic planet (for the ones who know it as little as the author of this article), with a lot of focus on the church and on the Cyrilius family, is visually the most striking of the movie. Old Lyon and parish buldings, often filmed with the camera tilting, halo of an almost disturbing spirituality.

The second part focuses on François, played by Denis Ménochet (Inglourius Basterd, Marie-Madelène, Jusqu’à la Garde…), who broadcasts the case, creates the association gathering victims’ testimonies  “la parole libérée” and starts legal proceedings. Legal proceedings during which, in 2015 during a press conference , Cardinal Barbarin dreadfully commented: “By the Grace of God, the facts are subject to statute of limitations.”

More classical, this part brings the story to the basics of the investigation movie. We might think about Spotlight [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RY1k_10EzFs] of course but also about French movies which were not as good like l’Affaire SK1 or XXXXX. Is it because of Ménochet’s polo shirts or the multiplication of necessary and dispensable scenes (or the contrary)? The tension is quite reduced until Swan Arlaud appears on screen (César award for best actor in 2018 in Bloody Milk). He plays the victim of another social background, a rock’n’roll outsider, eaten up with the memory of this priest, and supported by a devastated mother, Josianne Balasko, wonderful.

Ozon has made a corrosive and quirky movie every year for a long time (Under the Sand, Potiche, Young & Beautiful…). We now feel in his cinema something more combative and without a doubt moral since Frantz, which dealt with the First World War…

These two tendencies tend to confront in By the Grace Of God.

The serious and documented investigation movie, and the great movie having a bit of Coppola and a bit of Pasolini, two dimensions that go along without one stepping on the other. It’s his limit but it’s not that bad.