BERLIN: French director Francois Ozon described the struggles he experienced breaking the silence surrounding paedophile abuse scandals in the Catholic Church when making “By the Grace of God”, about three victims who faced down the hierarchy.
The film explores the impact of the protagonists’ decision to act on long-dormant memories of abuse on scouting excursions and summer camps, bringing upheaval into their relationships with parents, children and friends.
Revelations of decades of abuse suffered by children at the hands of the priests to whose care they were entrusted have convulsed the Catholic Church globally. But even now some prefer to draw a veil over the past.
Ozon said he had hesitated even to seek financial backers in “ultra-Catholic” Lyon, the city in which priest Bernard Preynat allegedly groomed and abused young boys, even as successive cardinal archbishops allegedly turned a blind eye.
“All the church interior scenes were shot in Belgium and Luxembourg,” Ozon told reporters on Friday after the screening of the film, one of 17 competing for a Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival.
“Lyon is extremely Catholic,” he said, describing how exterior scenes in Lyon were deliberately shot in a low-profile way. “We wanted to be free and not censored.”
Producer Eric Altmayer said: “It wasn’t easy to finance the film, given its topic.”
Preynat is due to go on trial for child abuse in Lyon later this year. He denies the charges against him.
The film shows three alleged victims – successful banker Alexandre (played by Melvil Poupaud), the volatile and creative Francois (Denis Menochet) and the deeply troubled Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud) as they press prosecutors to charge first Preynat and then Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyon, for allegedly turning a blind eye to the allegations.
Barbarin has admitted errors in his handling of the Preynat affair. But he denies the charges against him.
Arlaud, who in the film plays the most outwardly troubled of Preynat’s alleged victims, described the challenge of portraying the “damaged virility” of a man given to both volcano-like bursts of physical violence and sudden nervous collapse.
But by banding together with other victims, the three make headway in bringing their cause before prosecutors and forcing the church hierarchy to listen.
“Good luck to you if you want to get Barbarin,” says a prosecutor at one point in the film.
Last month, Barbarin’s trial on charges of having failed to report sexual abuse allegations opened in Lyon.