Screen Savor: Grace in Gravity

By the Grace of God Via Facebook

“By the Grace of God” (Music Box Films), French gay filmmaker/screenwriter François Ozon shifts gears and gets serious in a powerful, if overly long, movie based on the true story of the scandal (still fresh in the minds of some) that rocked the indestructible Catholic Church in Lyon, France.

“By the Grace of God” begins in 2014, when father of four Alexandre (Melvil Poupaud, who played the titular trans character in Xavier Dolan’s “Laurence Anyways”) is asked a “troubling question”. Olivier (Nicolas Bridet), another father at his kids’ school, who attended the same Catholic scouts camp as Alexandre when they were boys, asks if he was ever fondled by Father Preynat (Yves-Marie Bastien), the young priest who ran the camp. This brings about a flood of repressed memories, prompting Alexandre to act by beginning an email writing campaign to the church in which he tells of being molested by Preynat from the ages of nine to twelve, ending in 1986. The problem is that the statute of limitations has run out for Alexandre’s case.
Nevertheless, Alexandre, who considers himself “close to God” in spite of doubts and conflicts with the church, soon finds himself face-to-face with the elderly Preynat (Bernard Verley), arranged by diocese psychologist Régine (Martine Erhel) and Cardinal Barbarin (François Marthouret). During the meeting, Preynat confesses to molesting Alexandre (and others), but never actually apologizes. Before he realizes what is happening, the meeting is over, and Alexandre is more unsettled than before. He begins a relentless email campaign insistent on some sort of resolution to the matter as Preynat still has a parish and access to young and vulnerable boys.
During the course of Alexandre’s persistent correspondence, he encounters Suzanne (Martine Schambacher), a former diocesan secretary who has more information about Preynat. Additionally, two of her nephews (one of whom committed suicide) were also victims of Preynat. Suddenly there is momentum. The police become involved. More men, including Francois (Denis Ménochet), Gilles (Éric Caravaca) and Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud), all of whom were regularly molested by Preynat as boys, come forward. New victims are found. The survivors form a group and meet, along with their families. They form an organization, “Lift the Burden of Silence”, create a website, take to social media, and arrange a press conference. 
Many questions are raised. How long did the church know that Preynat was a pedophile? Why didn’t they take appropriate action? Of course, there is an emotional strain and toll. Francois and his brother Louis (Stéphane Brel) have a huge blowout during Christmas dinner. Emmanuel’s father doesn’t support what he is doing and is cruel to him. Ultimately, the survivors are as triumphant as they can be when faced with such a monolith. Preynat is officially charged and under investigation, although no date has been set for his trial. Additionally, the timeliness of the movie is remarkable as it concludes with a March 2019 update regarding Barbarin’s six-month suspended prison sentence. 
By the way, the title of the film comes from Barbarin’s misuse of the phrase at a press conference regarding to the statute of limitations running out for victims to report abuse. The Cardinal is called out by a journalist and forced to recant and clarify his statement.
In the States, we have become all too familiar with the pedophile priest scandal in the Catholic Church. By changing the geography, “By the Grace of God” illustrates just how far-reaching the indignity was and continues to be to this day. 
Rating: B