In the age of the #metoo movement, it’s almost ridiculous that the Catholic church hasn’t even accomplished the bare minimum to repair serious physical and psychological damages to victims of sexual and emotional abuse. In François Ozon’s By The Grace of God; a title foreshadowing irony of a specific comment from one of the many priests involved in the film’s rapidly expanding tale of believing victims; the film, instead of taking a more slow-paced glacial look at the subject, holds no boundaries in revealing the truth and getting into the nitty gritty from minute one. Mainly consisting of monologues, sharp character interactions, and read-aloud emails and convos, the format of communication in By The Grace of God is nothing short of entertaining and effective.
Through Ozon’s sharp wit and writing, frequently featured in some of his other feature length projects, By The Grace of God may just be his most relevant and important film yet. Labeled as the Spotlight (2015) of France, there’s a reason why the lawyers of the real life villain of the story (Father Preynat) attempted to halt the distribution of the film in France. The film plays like an expose, a riveting one at that, where in every single scene involving character and emotion, the film never wastes our time, and always seeks for the most direct and impactful way to deliver its messages. It’s an emotionally draining venture, and although none of the gratuitous descriptions of assault are shown visually in the film, the performances from the leading cast make each sentiment more raw, disturbing, and powerful with each word spoken.
Albeit the film’s extraordinary voice and avocation for the victims of such evil and immoral actions, the unfortunate downside to By The Grace Of God, is that it feels all too distant from it’s audience. Playing more like a professional scholarly experimental essay, rather than a heartfelt cinematic venture. The film never delves deep to any of the character’s internal emotions, in which it explicitly details them through
expositional plot devices, rather than visually communicating their feelings, actions, and arcs. This is even more apparent, in how relentless the film is from the moment it commences, having no time to explore the internal hardships of these very characters, resulting in a very dry, yet earnest experience.
Powerful, yet ultimately too distant for its own good, By The Grace of God is an important film, that may cause distress for some. It’s incredibly detailed and prolific in terms of its factual identification of victims ,and the atrocious criminal activity behind their trauma. However, the lack of real involvement between audience and film, makes the film a little too stale for its own good. Regardless, this is easily Ozon’s best film to date, and I sincerely hope he takes advantage of the political momentum of this film, to create more empowering pieces of art.
By The Grace of God is now playing in select cinemas in Quebec