By the Grace of God Movie Review: An Effectively Procedural Account of Sexual Abuse

Incredibly timely and harrowing. Just don't call it a French "Spotlight."
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Given how Spotlight came out four years ago and also covers the topic of pedophilia in the Catholic Church, it’s hard not to think of the Best Picture winner when watching By the Grace of God. Because both films are based on true stories, it only furthers their comparisons. However, By the Grace of God works as a successful companion piece because it focuses on the vantage point of sexual abuse victims as opposed to Spotlight which was about a group of journalists interviewing victims in order to expose the Church and their complicity.

Additionally, By the Grace of God emphasizes on the power of letting one’s voice be heard. Once Alexandre (Melvil Poupaud) decides to come forward and testify against an elderly priest named Father Preynat (Bernard Verley) who molested him after years of silence, his accusation leads to other victims coming forward. As the domino effect runs its course, the picture attempts to cover every possible facet of the sexual misconduct issue. From the way it handles the statute of limitations that prevents victims from coming forward to the Church’s accountability, By the Grace of God tries tackling the overall scope of the issue at hand. It works quite effectively even if it spells out its various conflicts in an expositional manner.

One topic that the film handles best, though, is the nature of privilege. Alexandre is the first person to make an accusation but as it turns out, it’s easier for him to be heard than Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud) and Francois (Denis Menochet), the two other men who’re a part of the central narrative, because he comes from a higher socioeconomic background. Alexandre encourages more victims to speak up yet some of them are scared to because their lack of wealthy connections puts them at a severe disadvantage when it comes to combating an organized religion.

Its handling of masculinity proves to be another vital component. During the opening scene where Alexandre is explaining the incident between him and Father Preynat in great detail, he tries to keep his composure to not seem too emotional since men are often taught to keep their feelings in check. In addition, him being a father and the “man of the house” only furthers the need to be more collected.

That sequence is also effective thanks to Melvil Poupaud’s precise performance along with great writing from director/writer Francois Ozon. As Alexandre is explaining how Father Preynat abused him, it never cuts away to a flashback of the incident and leaves viewers to visualize its terrifying nature. Even when the picture does cut back to when the main characters were children, the past scenes show them with Father Preynat while still avoiding any glimpse of the abuse that he enacted.

By the Grace of God might not have much new to say about the discourse of sexual misconduct. However, it does its job at continuing the conversation and emphasizing on the importance of speaking up. As previously mentioned, it’s easy to write this film off as a French Spotlight due to it being based on a real-life Catholic Church scandal. But rather than label it as such or try comparing them to one another, it’s best to appreciate how both films attempt to create more awareness for the issue at hand.

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