‘By the Grace of God’ explores the church’s unimaginable betrayal of child victims of sexual abuse

Star Tribune

Oct.31, 2019

By Glenn Kenny

For a member of the clergy to sexually violate a child is one of the most stark and cruel betrayals imaginable. That an institution would prevaricate and dissemble about these betrayals rather than take immediate, decisive action to pursue justice and provide restitution creates a greater betrayal. After years of such actions, betrayal reaches a near-unimaginable level.

And yet, we don’t have to imagine. In the Roman Catholic Church, these violations have been rife, and the stories behind them are appalling.

In “By the Grace of God,” François Ozon, one of France’s most brazen and talented directors, tells a story of a group of men in Lyon, all childhood victims of a pedophile priest. These adults find each other and form an organization to bring that priest and the church’s higher-ups who covered for him to account for their actions.

This fact-based story — one which, as we learn from the closing credits, has still not reached a conclusion — represents a break from Ozon’s usual fare. The director is known as an unpredictable genre-bender, confidently concocting erotic thrillers, anti-erotic thrillers, musicals, literary adaptations (his 2007 film, “Angel,” was an imaginative and very apt view of Elizabeth Taylor’s tricky, brilliant novel) and more. His movies are almost exclusively stylistically elaborate affairs.

This is not the case here. Ozon’s screenplay — derived from his own research, including interviews with members of the Lyon activist group Lift the Burden — consists of three profiles, so to speak, of the adult survivors of one predator.

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