François Ozon‘s latest jumps from the testimony of one character to the next, following the thread of its main subject: a priest’s sexual abuse of children over the course of many years. But at some point in the midst of developing an investment in each of these on screen individual’s personal accounts, more thorny sub-themes enter into the film. By the Grace of God is a narrative film constructed around the real life case of the sexual abuses committed by a French catholic priest, Bernard Preynat. The focus is less it’s true crime hook, though, than it is the way an organization is built-up by the victims of these abuses, as a means to try and raise awareness of the institutionalized crisis at the heart of the Catholic Church. The film doesn’t visualize the accounts of these individuals, but it’s still tough to watch the characters just talk about what they’ve been though, and how it has affected their lives. Particularly powerful is the testimony of Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud), who gradually comes to a realization that the abuse he was subjected to might be the reason that his life is such a wreck, but that it’s also given him a purpose and a goal in life: to raise awareness. Ozon’s approach is stylistically flat and overall a bit rushed, since this story was still developing even as the film was being made. But By the Grace of God is still compelling for the way it speaks to the realities and ramifications of pedophilia in the Catholic Church.
Published as part of October 2019’s Before We Vanish.