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February 9, 2019 by · Leave a Comment 

News conference for Gràce á Dieu at the Berlin Film Festival

Veteran French writer-director François Ozon, who generally makes women the hub of his screenplays, has now turned his camera instead on a group of men who courageously take on the Catholic Archdiocese of Lyon, France for its alleged actions to cover up abuse by a pedophile priest. Gràce á Dieu (By the Grace of God), which premiered Friday at the Berlin Film Festival, takes its name from a slip-of-the-tongue by Cardinal Philippe Barbarin during an official inquiry into the church’s response to complaints about the behavior of Father Bernard Preynat. “The majority of facts, by the grace of God, are forbidden” from being revealed because of France’s statute of limitations, Barbarin said. (He later admitted that he had made “a mistake of my language.”)

Ozon does not hesitate to name the Catholic functionaries who participated in the alleged cover-up, but he does change the names of the victims, who are still awaiting the outcome of their efforts to expose the systemic issues within the Catholic church that permitted priests to engage in sexual abuse for decades, and, in the case of Father Preynat, allowed him to molest perhaps hundreds of boys with virtual impunity. Ironically, the producers of the film are fighting efforts to have the film’s release in France postponed until after the trials of the principals in the abuse scandal are concluded. But at a news conference, Ozon argued that his film “won’t have an impact in that sense, because everything I talk about in the film has already been covered by the French press.”

In fact, the movie often resembles a fly-on-the-wall news documentary, and, at two hours plus, presents us with more information about the case and the personal lives of the victims than we may want to know. (Do we really need to be told, as we are in two uncomfortable scenes, that one of the victims believes his penis became misshapen because Father Prenat masturbated him with a circular motion of his hand?) Mostly for that reason, the film lacks the riveting impact of Tom McCarthy’s 2015 Oscar-winning film Spotlight, about the Boston Globe’s exposé of sexual abuse within the Boston archdiocese.

Nevertheless, this is strong stuff, and the Berlinale screening comes just days after Pope Francis acknowledged that priests and bishops had been sexually abusing nuns for years and that he was prepared to convene a “summit” on sex abuse to deal with the matter. Ozon’s film, by the grace of God, ought to keep the issue burning.