By the Grace of God (French: Grâce à Dieu)
Starring Melvil Poupaud, Denis Ménoc Swann Arlaud
Directed by Francois Ozon
Rating: ** ½
More than profoundly saddened, this disturbing but dry drama about child abuse, let me deeply disappointed. It could have said so much more and moved us in so many devastating ways, the way that other far more powerful film on child abuse in the church Spotlight had done.
Director Francois Ozon is not interested in peeling off the layers of hurt humiliation trauma and the terror that these brave survivors of sexual abuse are shown to have endured. Instead, the narrative plunges straightaway into a clinical detached fact-finding mission, with a professional-sounding voice-over doing a click-button narration, informing us of the facts, data and spadework.
Okay, this film means business. No harm in that. But somewhere that brusque dispassionate tone robs the abused heroes of their emotional rights. They are in the film to serve a purpose, namely, expose the sexual abuse among clerics and priests. Beyond that, the director doesn’t give a flying flick for our wounded soldiers. These could be victims of food poisoning in a posh restaurant that’s being taken to task.
We first meet Alexandre (Melvil Poupaud) a well-settled man with a loving wife and five children who decide to expose the priest who had abused him during his childhood.
Why now? His eldest son asks. “So that it doesn’t happen to others,” says Alexandre. A noble thought, sadly unsupported by the narrative’s swift and dismissive approach to the wounds that never heal. Forget a healing hand, this film is not even interested in applying a band-aid on the gaping wounds.
Early on Alexandre meets his childhood tormentor who shrugs off responsibility for his dirty deeds by saying he is a sick man. This would have been a humorous moment in the self-important narrative were it not so disturbingly blasé and shameless. To see the Church supporting this child abuser is not an easy pill to swallow. The director makes it harder by adopting the tone of a news report in a channel desperate to boost its TRPs.
From this point of bland confrontation for justice the film moves to another victim Francois (Denis Menochet) and then another Emmanuel (Swan Arlaud) who doesn’t want to rake up his traumatic past. Going from victim to victim case to case with a motorized equanimity the film has no room for or patience with emotions. Its restless nature finally overpowers its noble intentions. I was left looking at a film that doesn’t seem to care enough about the victims as long as they can be used to tell an engaging story.
Engaging, By The Grace of God is in parts. But the heart is missing.