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Reviews for October 16th, 2019

By the Grace of God

Directed by François Ozon

      When Alexandre Gué&rin (Melvil Poupaud) was a Boy Scout, a priest, Father Preynat (Bernard Verley), sexually abused him. Years later, the priest has not been prosecuted yet and still works with children. Alexandre, who now has a wife, Marie (Auré&lia Petit), and children of his own, sets out to alert the Catholic Church about the priest's wrongdoing. He finds other victims of Father Preynat, namely, François (Denis Ménochet) and Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud), but they have an uphill battle against the Catholic Church, an institution that protected pedophile priests for years. 

     A poster of Spotlight can be seen in a police station in By the Grace of God which is shares a lot in common with thematically, but the film it owes much more to in terms its filmmaking style is All the President's Men. The emotion depth comes from the moving performances by Melvil Poupoud, Denis Mé&nochet and Swann Arlaud. Not surprisingly, one of the victims of abuse feels reluctant to come forward, but eventually does. Also, not surprisingly, Father Preynat shows over and over that he lacks empathy, accountability, compassion and true remorse. The members of the Catholic Church are his enablers and remain to be throughout. The screenplay by writer/director  François Ozon hits the right notes at least because it does a great job of allowing the audience to feel sad for the victims while rooting for them to achieve the justice that they deserve, even after the statutes of limitations have passed. Although, By the Grace of God isn't a thriller per se, but it comes close to feeling like one.

     The screenplay does have a few weaknesses including clunky uses of flashbacks to the experiences of the victims in the Boy Scouts and interacting with Father Preynat. You don't see any of the rapes happening onscreen, so at least Ozon leaves that to the audience's imagination. He does have a few powerful scenes with the victims giving their vividly detailed account of how they were abused; the flashbacks aren't necessary because the words alone speak volumes. Then there's a courtroom scene with one of the members of the Catholic Church admitting guilt in a way that feels a bit contrived and out of character, even if it's something that truly did happen. Also, it doesn't seem very believable that a poster of Spotlight would be hanging in a police station out of all places unless one of the police officers was sexually abused himself perhaps. Those screenplay flaws are systematic and forgivable, though. At a running time of 2 hours and 17 minutes, By the Grace of God is a captivating, provocative and unflinching procedural in the vein of All the President's Men.

Number of times I checked my watch: 1
Released by Music Box Films.
Opens at Film Forum and Landmark at 57 West.
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