By the Grace of God (‘Grâce à Dieu’)

DRAMA; 2hr 17min (French with subtitles)

STARRING: Melvil Poupaud, Denis Ménochet, Swann Arlaud, Bernard Verley

Duty of care: Poupaud

From 1983 to 1986, between the ages of nine and 12, Alexandre Guérin (Poupaud) was sexually abused by the unfortunately named Catholic priest Bernard Preynat (Verley). Thirty years later, Alexandre’s memories haven’t faded. “I … will live in the shadow of what [Preynat] did,” he says.


And so he does in Swimming Pool writer-director François Ozon’s mindful treatment of actual events, despite being a happily married father of five. Offered the opportunity to meet with his abuser, a reflexively angry and frightened yet still faithfully religious Alexandre agrees, in the hope of an apology. And yes, Father Preynat is indeed sorry—for himself and the pain his numerous molestations of young boys, which he audaciously doesn’t deny, has caused him.


By now, Alexandre is out for accountability blood. Only reparation by the Church and removal of Preynat from pastoral duties will suffice. His appeals to the relevant cardinal (François Marthouret as Philippe Barbarin) and letters to the diocese both prove fruitless: Father Preynat continues to say Mass. Then, despite the statute of limitations on his case having elapsed, Alexandre files a why-the-hell-not legal complaint, and the fur really starts to fly with the emergence of two axe-grinding fellow sufferers (Menochet and Arlaud). An association is formed. Media—mainstream and social—gets in on the act. Decades later, the village has rallied.


With a documentarian’s precision, Ozon and his ensemble cast lay out a timeline no less disturbing for its calculated restraint, for when the facts are their own incriminating story, studied calm in the face of them is the most penetrative way to go. Stripped of histrionic flourishes, the damage done is as sharply drawn as an assault. In its aftermath, the collusive Church secrecy that tacitly condoned unthinkable acts becomes a swamp that taints everyone it touches. For Father Preynat’s violated boys, that swamp is also a life sentence.