“By the Grace of God” was greeted warmly at the Berlin Film Festival, where it won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize, but François Ozon’s film based on a Catholic sex scandal has had a more complicated reception in France. Priest Bernard Preynat, who has been accused of molesting more than 80 boys and denies all allegations against him, is attempting to block the film from receiving a theatrical release in France until after his trial later this year.
“When you try to break the silence, there is always resistance,” Ozon told Agence France-Presse of the situation.
“I don’t think this is happening by accident, because it is a film which is trying to break an omerta, and which deals with the silence,” he said. Even so, Ozon has tried to be “as even-handed and objective as possible. It is not a film of goodies and baddies, it is much more complex than that for the affected families and the institution itself, and I tried to show that.”
Much of that approach involves focusing on established facts, according to Ozon. “Ninety percent of the film concerns the victims. It is their story. The rest are established facts from court documents, the press, documentaries and a book on the affair,” he said.
In his positive Berlinale review of the film, IndieWire’s David Ehrlich compared “By the Grace of God” to “Spotlight” and wrote, “Without deviating from the mission at hand, or taking its focus away from Preynat and Cardinal Barbarin, “By the Grace of God” is nevertheless attuned to the many different ways in which sexual trauma can burrow into and hollow out those who have to live with it.”
“I don’t know if cinema can change the world,” Ozon said in his AFP interview, “but it can open debate.”