Written and directed by François Ozon, By the Grace of
God stars Melvil Poupaud, Denis Ménochet, and Swann Arlaud as three
middle-aged survivors of sexual abuse that they experienced as children at the
hands of Catholic priest Father Bernard Preynat (Bernard Verley). It’s been
decades since their abuse and despite their different lives and traumas, they
are banding together to try and bring Preynat to justice despite unyielding
obstacles set by the Catholic Church.
By the Grace of God is based on true events, focusing
on the actions of Bernard Preynat, a Catholic priest who was found guilty in
July of this year of sexual abuse of minors younger than 16 and was defrocked
by the Church. Preynat also tried, unsuccessfully, to block the release of this
film, which helps inform the realism that Ozon brings to portraying the victims
of his abuse.
With every victim that we meet, we learn something new about
what victims of sexual abuse go through, whether it be trying to tell their
families, at first not believing other victims when they come out, struggling
to find the proper words to use, facing legal barrier upon legal barrier
seemingly stopping their voices from being heard, and other difficulties that impede
the healing process.
By the Grace of God
is such an important story that needed to be told. The core performances from Poupaud,
Ménochet, and Arlaud are impressive, with all three French actors managing to convey
the pain and torment behind their characters eyes, breaking through years of
unsuccessful attempts at rehabilitation. Joining them is Bernard Verley as Preynat,
who has an incredibly difficult part to play as a predator who seems regretful
but doesn’t understand the full gravity of his actions. He does this in such an
understated and realistic way that I felt disgust whenever I saw him.
I’m grateful to see and feel these statements about the
lives of victims and what sexual abuse does to people at such a young age, but By
the Grace of God hits a wall of not knowing where to go next just plateaus
with how depressing the situation is. It’s still realistic, maybe at times too
much, but as you start to realise the futility of the survivors efforts, it
leaves you feeling wasted. Maybe it’s not the movie’s fault, more the result of
the difficulties of seeking justice that comes with the real story, but it left
me feeling like I never wanted to see By the Grace of God again.
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