GRACE A DIEU (By the Grace of God) (France 2018) ****
Directed by Francois Ozon
French veteran director Francois Ozon has made his name with upbeat comedic drama like SITCOM, LES AMANTS CRIMINELS (The Criminal Lovers), SWIMMING POOL and others. His mood takes in turn to sombreness in his latest offering GRACE A DIEU (By the Grace of God). The film is a fictional account inspired by the real life and trials Father Preynat, implicated for acts of pedophilia dating back to 1986. With a case still then pending before the French courts, the film created an unprecedented controversy and the Father Preynat's lawyer even asked for the postponement of its release. At present, French justice has ruled and authorized the film’s release in France in February. Since then, Father Bernard Preynat has been found guilty of sex abuse of minors and defrocked.
This film tells the moving incredible story.
The film first centres on Alexandre (Melvil Poupaud of Xavier Dolan’s LAURENCE ANYWAYS) living in Lyon with his wife and children. One day he learns by chance that the priest who abused him, Father Preynat when he was in scouts is still working with children.
The consequences are deeply rooted in Alexandre’s life. He confronts Preynat who admits the deed but does not ask for forgiveness. The important moment is examined in the film when Alexandre tells his wife that if Preynat went on bended knee to ask for his forgiveness, he would not know what to do. The wife replies that if Alexandre forgave him, he would be Preynat’s victim forever. The film also debates the fact that the church’s aim is forgiveness and redemption at the expense of the victim. “I don’t want forgiveness,” says Alexandre. “I want Other Preynat sanctioned. He is a danger to children.”
Alexandre decides to take action and is soon joined by two other victims of the priest, François and Emmanuel. They band together to "lift the burden of silence" surrounding their ordeal. But the repercussions and consequences will leave no one unscathed. Based on events from the 2019 conviction of Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon for concealing the conduct of Father Bernard Preynat, the film compassionately illustrates the varying effects of trauma on survivors and their families in this urgent portrait of resistance, the power of mobilization, and the mysteries of faith.
Ozon’s film might not stop child abuse in the Catholic Church forever but his heavy guilt-laden film will almost certainly make the guilty ashamed.
Ozon is known for his twisted sense of humour as evident in his breakthrough film SITCOM or his gay re-telling of the Hansel and Gretel story in LES AMANTS CRIMINELS. Not much humour can be found in GRACE A DIEU, but he includes one quote of Father Preynat’s victims: “In my life, I have only made love to 3 people - me , my wife and Father Preynat”
The film finally gets a release in Canada on October 18th after official selection at the Halifax, Cinefest Sudbury and Vancouver Film Festival. Grand Jury Prize winner at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, BY THE GRACE OF GOD is a film, told as it is in all its sensitivity and dead seriousness and should be seen for its subject of pedophilia in the Catholic church to be revealed.