By the Grace of God
By the Grace of God may be almost too big and too urgent to do its subjects coherent and complete justice, but its ambition makes a lasting impression
A sense of waiting, watching and not daring to hope pervades François Ozon’s latest feature, By the Grace of God. Unconventionally, this true-life drama was made during the trial that it dramatises: the case against Philippe Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon, who turned a blind eye to sexual abuse crimes committed by local priest Bernard Preynat. The verdict was not scheduled until a month after its world premiere at Berlin Film Festival, but this limbo has now been resolved: Barbarin was found guilty. Seen through this lens, the film retains its righteous outrage and aptly captures the moment in time when pragmatism and hope coexisted with no cinematic happy ending.
Indeed, this feeling that the paint has not dried on the story heightens the sense that closure might not be as easy as a conviction for Preynat's victims. The torturous procedure that Alexandre (Poupaud) and his fellow survivors go through – both in terms of the law, and what this admission does to their personal lives – is made palpable through Ozon’s ever-unfolding narrative and expansive dialogue. These words, understated and plentiful, are the overwhelming takeaway, lending a verisimilitude that supports the slice-of-life picture created here.
Ozon makes the dialogue surprisingly cinematic by coaxing unfussy, ultra-realistic performances from his cast, keeping intense focus on the content rather than cinematic or performative flourishes. On that front, the descriptions of the sexual abuse are graphic, but nothing is shown. This approach is sensitive, sobering and needing no exaggeration to express its injustices.
By the Grace of God may be almost too big and too urgent to do its subjects coherent and complete justice, considering that Ozon’s flair for dramatic structure clashes noticeably with the film’s lack of resolution. That said, its ambition, urgency and unwillingness to reach for the easy answers or condemnations leave a lasting impression.
Released 25 Oct by Curzon