The three men, friends of childhood, will cross, compare their personal experiences and question their life of couple, family and professional.
Scandals involving the Catholic Church across the globe have become so common to the extent that most people are almost numb to the effect, but ‘By the Grace of God’ is a valuable reminder of the human cost of the church’s behaviour. Set in Lyon in France and based on true events, the film is about three childhood friends who attempt to get justice for the suffering they experienced at the hands of their local priest. It’s directed by Francois Ozon, one of France’s leading filmmakers, and it’s a very personal film that keeps the focus on the victims and how the church uses its influence to silence their stories.
Ozon’s approach is to loosely split the film into four sections, giving one section to each of the main characters, and the final section to their collective action, and it works well for helping us get to know these people and the different ways they’ve been affected by what happened to them. Alexandre (Melvin Poupaud) seems calm and appeals to the church for reason, Francois (Denis Menochet) has been left angry and bitter by his experiences, and Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud) is particularly damaged and is a shell of the man he could have been.
Beyond these important, personal and individual stories, I thought the film was very impressive in how it calmly and systematically showed the lengths the church will go to in order to suppress victims from coming forward. The priest concerned openly admits his crimes, yet he remains in a position where he has access to children, and beyond him, the bishop and others in the church attempt to appeal to the victims to remain quiet for ‘the good of the church’. It’s a familiar story we’ve read about, watched films and documentaries about, and it’s occurred in numerous places across the world, and I felt ‘By the Grace of God’ was particularly powerful as it showed the subtle machinations of the church at work. There’s no shouting, no big dramatic scenes, just people in rooms trying to come to terms with the past and how it’s affected them.
‘By the Grace of God’ is an excellent film from Francois Ozon, covering a difficult topic with nuance and care, and I thought it managed to successfully articulate the personal toll child abuse takes on its victims, as well as strongly depict and denounce the disgraceful tactics used by the catholic church to silence the victims.
Directed By: Francois Ozon
Starring: Melvil Poupaud, Denis Menochet, Swann Arlaud, Eric Caravaca, Francois Marthouret and Bernard Verley