By the Grace of God

France, 2018 / 138 Mins

Director: François Ozon

Starring: Melvil Poupaud, Denis Ménochet

Subtitles.

François Ozon’s latest film may be his most surprising to date. Absent the mercurial director’s usual stylistic flourishes, tonal shifts and sly humour, it’s an ambitious, sober true story of child sexual abuse in the French Catholic Church and the winner of the 2019 Berlinale Jury Grand Prix.

A Lyon family man, Alexandre’s (Melvil Poupaud) professional exterior masks a traumatic secret: that as a young boy he was abused by priest Bernard Preynat (Bernard Verley). Unable to stay silent, in 2014 Alexandre takes his case to Cardinal Barbarin (François Marthouret), who professes ignorance over Preynat’s crimes – but as the inquiry elicits a chain of similar testimonies from other men, the Cardinal’s position becomes harder to sustain.

Conceived by Ozon as a film ‘in the spirit of Spotlight’, Tom McCarthy’s Oscar winner about the Boston Globe’s revelatory investigation into child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, it is similarly conscientious and well-researched, following the perspective of several semi-fictionalised men as they speak up about their long-repressed experiences and seek justice.

By now a familiar story – the uncovering of long-repressed traumas, the predatory targeting of victims, the repeated cover-ups by Catholic officials – it is nevertheless still an incredibly important one; a French chapter in what has become an international reckoning.

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