Sexual abuse of minors by priests isn’t just grotesque, it’s disturbingly topical too given the regularity with which such hideous crimes continue to be perpetuated at scale, and willfully abetted and protected too, for years, by wrinkled men in power. This latter aspect is especially evidenced by the fact that alongside the brilliantly investigative Spotlight and Larrain’s lacerating The Club, Ozon’s sobering, sensitive and sombre By the Grace of God is the third fine film on this distressing subject that I recall having watched from the 2010s. It’s based on the true incident of serial sexual abuser Father Bernard Preynat (played with frightening brilliance by Bernard Verley); despite his having preyed on scores of vulnerable young boys for decades using his position as a scout master, and – in a surreal twist to expectations – even promptly acknowleding his “misdemeanors” to anyone who asked, everyone from Lyon’s Cardinal to the city’s Catholic faithful turned blind eyes to it. The ravaging effects of this complicity are told through the tragic stories of three dramatically different men who decide to confront their pasts – Alexandre (Melvil Poupaud), a composed, conservative and religious family man with supportive wife and kids; François (an absolutely terrific Denis Ménochet), a troubled, angry, rebellious man who’s quit religion long back and is willing to be provocative in order to build solidarity for the cause; and Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud), a thoroughly wrecked and perennially haunted working class man. What made the film artistically courageous was in the way Ozon audaciously fused three films – of vastly different tones and flavours – into a single movie; hence, though tad shorn of a dramatic urge at times, it did make for a compelling watch.
Director: Francois Ozon
Genre: Drama/Religious Drama/Psychological Drama