This very difficult account of child sex abuse within the Catholic Church also has a significant role in bringing to light these horrific scandals, in the hopes they will not be repeated. By the Grace of a God is a timely telling of the Archdiocese of Lyon scandal and investigation in France, which only occurred over the past four years. It’s not a film that goes in-depth on the emotional sorrow of the victims, but does view this case through their perspectives, jumping from one of them to another, never entirely solidifying a main character.
The man to instigate the case is Alexandre (Melvil Poupaud) who wishes to make known the abuse he suffered from Father Bernard Preynat (Bernard Verley) as a boy. He continues to build up a case, with not much luck, but finds solidarity when he creates a campaign for other victims of this priest, some of them opening up about their abuse for the first time.
The narrative gets passed along between Alexandre and two other men, François (Denis Ménochet), a successful middle-upper class family man, and Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud), a depressed construction site worker. These three men, and others of similar age, piece together a case against Preynat, all the while creating a social and cathartic circle for themselves, where even joy and laughter are to be found.
The repercussions that have long affected these men are viewed in their varying ways, but the film has a warmth in its optimism at being able to fight for justice. Most of the film has a logical and very grounded approach, but the notion of faith and spirituality is debated by these men, who are of varying beliefs, with the Catholic Alexandre in an ambiguous state over his own. Even though it takes place all from the perspective of the victims, the drama feels a bit flat as it hardly progresses or evolves throughout the film, despite the progression of the investigation.
This film has been made and released so quickly that not all of the events are captured here. The victorious conclusion has been achieved, as earlier in 2019, Father Bernard Preynat was convicted of child sex abuse, sentenced to a (very short) prison sentence, and has been defrocked. The efforts of those he affected have been well documented here, not in a way that breaks through into their emotions, but simply views the many, many actions they had to dedicatedly take over a number of years to finally bring justice.