By the Grace of God Image

By the Grace of God

By Alex Saveliev | October 18, 2019

The bureaucracy of the church prevails. Even when Alexandre’s religious children, unbeknownst to their father, reach out for help, they receive autographed copies of a book and a bunch of useless rhetoric in response. Alexandre mentions the word “pedophile” at another point, making a priest uncomfortable. “Pedosexual seems more accurate,” he says. So Alexandre presses on, finding other victims to testify, a more recent case that would help circumvent the whole “statute of limitations” crap. Lo and behold, the traumatized-but-determined François (Denis Ménochet) surfaces – the mid-section of the film focuses on him – rising up not just against the priest, but against the entire Diocese of Lyon, who “knew and did nothing.” Soon joined by Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud), perhaps the most traumatized of the three, the group grows into a full-fledged “club dés resistance.”

An explosive dinner scene at about the halfway point is worth the price of admission by itself.”

Ozon knows his camera placements, musical cues, and, of course, actors, and here he barely steps wrong, pulling us into the narrative, even while dialing back on his usual extravagance. An explosive dinner scene at about the halfway point is worth the price of admission by itself. He keeps the characters at length from us deliberately, so we don’t get too immersed in their personal stories, therefore blinding ourselves to the bigger issue. That’s not to say, however, that the film is cold or distancing – Denis Ménochet and Swann Arlaud particularly leave a lasting impression, saying volumes with just a few gestures.

“This is about morality, not faith,” François declares at one point. Are priests capable of asking forgiveness? Deeming themselves deities who perform God’s will, are they above it? Should they atone for crimes they committed three decades ago? Are they representative of the permeating injustices in the world today? To me, the answers to all these questions are clear, as I believe they are to both Ozon and his protagonists. It may be a “message movie,” through and through, but it’s a muscular, endearing, highly intelligent one.  “We should be guided by justice, not revenge,” a character proclaims. Amen.

By the Grace of God (2019)

Directed and Written: François Ozon

Starring: Melvil Poupaud, Denis Ménochet, Swann Arlaud, Éric Caravaca, François Marthouret, Bernard Verley, Josiane Balasko., etc.

Movie score: 8/10

By the Grace of God Image

"…It may be a 'message movie'...but it's a muscular, endearing, highly intelligent one."

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