Keswick Film Club - Reviews - By the Grace of God

Reviews - By the Grace of God

By the Grace of God

Reviewed By Ian Payne

By the Grace of God
By the Grace of God
The cover-up by the Catholic Church of abuses perpetrated by Priests is well documented and has been the subject of a film (Spotlight) and an excellent novel (The Crimes of the Father) by Thomas Keneally.

French Director Francois Ozon originally intended to make a documentary about the ongoing investigations into the abuse by Father Bernard Preynat but on meeting the group of his victims who had campaigned so effectively for justice, he realised that their faces were already well-known and that a film based on known facts would be a better way of telling their story.

By the Grace of God is about Guilt. The guilt felt by the victims of the abuse, the guilt felt by their parents who knew but did or could do little to speak out against the institution of the Church and the obvious guilt of the Church itself – the only party that did not readily admit that guilt.

This complex film was broken down into the experiences of 3 particular victims of Preynat's assaults. Alexandre, a devout Catholic who is nonetheless appalled to find the Preynat is still working with children some 30 years after his own experiences; Francois, now an atheist who had repressed his memories until Alexandre's investigations open the floodgates and Emmanuel, the most physically and emotionally damaged of the three. As we get to know their stories, the impact of the past on their present lives and families is heartbreaking.

Fending off the challenges of the action group is Cardinal Barbarin, piously mouthing the official line about paedophile priests but doing his best to limit the damage to himself and the Institution he represents. It transpires that the Church has known about Father Preynat all along and has done as little as possible to placate families yet allow the Priest to carry on his appalling behaviour somewhere else.

It has taken some 5 years from Alexandre's initial protest to the defrocking of Father Preynat and a suspended sentence for Cardinal Barbarin (unbelievably subject to an appeal). By the Grace of God is a story that needed to be told and the fact that Francois Ozon did so in such a measured and undramatic way lends dignity to those abused and heaps approbation on those who covered it up. A truly remarkable film.

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