By the Grace of God is the latest film from celebrated French director François Ozon. By the Grace of God deals with abuse that went on in the Catholic Church. Unlike most films that I’ve seen about the abuse that went on in the church this film deals with it from the perspective of the French people and it is possibly more intense than others.
The style is very matter of fact. Ozon does not beat around the bush when dealing with the subject matter of the film. Father of 5 Alexandre Guérin (Melvil Poupaud) learns that a priest who molested him has returned to the region to teach catholicism to young children. This sparks a reaction in Alexandre who wishes that this be addressed and dealt with.
He contacts the church and a meeting is arranged between himself and the priest. He sees this as an opportunity to get some kind of closure. Instead the meeting between them seems like a dismissal of his feelings even though the priest fully admits what he did. There isn’t even an apology issued by the priest.
Leaving this meeting Alexandre feels awful and so he begins to try and find a way to get this priest banished from the church. Where the story goes from there is a potent and emotional human story and I couldn’t recommend it enough.
The human story of By the Grace of God
At first, Alexandre seems like a man who has come to terms with what happened to him. However when he and the audience meet the priest in question there is a rage and it’s palpable. Most damning is how the priest justifies why he can never give Alexandre the closure he so rightfully deserves.
One of the most terrifying elements of By the Grace of God is the fact that people just don’t seem to care. Alexandre’s own mother dismisses his trauma as simply stirring shit. It’s dumbfounding and this film is set in 2014, a mere 5 years ago. I felt like the film was set in the murk and mud of the Dark Ages where the church held sway.
Structurally By the Grace of God is impressive. It breaks itself down into 4 parts. We are introduced to Alexandre in the first act, then as his actions begin to spread across France we meet other victims of abuse. Each major player becomes the focal point of the film until they all meet by the 4th act.
The two other characters are François Debord (Denis Ménochet) and Emmanuel Thomassin (Swann Arlaud). We meet François in act 2 and Emmanuel in act 3. They form a trio that represents victims that are created in the aftermath of the abuse.
Alexandre has a balanced life, believes they can fix the church from inside, François represents the victim who has become completely disillusioned with the church and wishes to bring it down. Finally, we have Emmanuel who’s life was irreparably destroyed by his abuser. He can’t keep a job down, has a possible condition with his penis due to what this priest did to him during the abuse period and seems far more disturbed by his interaction than the other two.
These men are all connected by their shared trauma from this despicable priest. The numbers then skyrocket as the audience learn how many victims this priest may have.
Crafting a story that makes you stand up and notice
By the Grace of God is a masterfully crafted film. Its characters are all too real, the subject matter is delivered potently and technically is a well-designed film. The cinematography is in stark contrast to the narrative. There is beauty in the scenes set during Christmas but they are undermined by the disturbing narration.
Another fascinating narrative choice comes when Alexandre writes to the pope. The dialogue is done via whispering as if he’s afraid someone else in the church will read it. He waits to be alone while he writes it and this includes a painful flashback.
By the Grace of God is sadly nothing new but how it deals with these people and their stories brings, in my opinion, new weight to the topic.
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