Written for RAF News October 2019
Based on true accounts and a scandal that is currently going to trial, Francois Ozon’s dramatisation looks at a group of child-abuse victims who band together as adults to speak out against their abuser and the system that allowed him to act with impunity: The Catholic Church.
The film begins with Alexandre (Melvil Poupaud), a devout Christian family man who is moved to action when he sees that the priest who abused him as a young boy is back in Lyon working with children. Bringing back traumatic memories, he becomes determined to prevent Father Preynat (Bernard Verley) from doing further damage and to make the church a safe and morally responsible place for children such as his own.
The first third of the film sticks closely to the shared correspondence between Alex and different figureheads from the church, formally written and delivered as voice-overs to shots of him with his family and Preynat with his congregation. This measured approach only gets so far before being met with closed doors, and so a disconsolate Alex files an official complaint which becomes the flap of the butterfly’s wing that leads to a previous case being reopened.
François had a similar experience to Alexandre but his confrontational approach is far different. Continuing a police investigation and gaining the interest of the press, he forms a support group that becomes an open forum for victims, eventually receiving an overwhelming number of similar child-abuse testimonies of kids 30 years ago. From here the group put a case together against the Priest and now renowned Cardinal Barbarin (François Marthouret), who kept the cases from being reported to civil authorities.
There is a definite reminder of recent Oscar winner Spotlight, but By The Grace focusses on the victims as opposed to the journalists reporting the story. And rather than maintain a sorrowful and sympathetic tone, it allows the characters to be normalised: they have flaws and a sense of humour like anyone else. It doesn’t impact their deserved empathy, it makes them feel more real.
The length of time spent with each character could lessen the immediate impact, but Ozon has made a bold film that gives insight to the varied long-term affects of abuse.