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BERLIN 2019 Competition

François Ozon • Director of By the Grace of God

"The stakes were much higher with this film"

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- BERLIN 2019: François Ozon, in competition at Berlin for the fifth time running with By the Grace of God, talks to Cineuropa about his latest film, which is based on a very important true story

François Ozon  • Director of By the Grace of God
François Ozon on the set of By the Grace of God (© Mars Films)

François Ozon is in the running for the Golden Bear at Berlin for the fifth time running with a very timely film, By the Grace of God [+see also:
film review
trailer
Q&A: François Ozon
film profile
]
, which broaches the true story of a paedophilic Catholic priest from Lyon (who is currently involved in an ongoing court case with the Catholic church), based on the testimonies of his victims, who are now adults, and their fight for justice with an association entitled La Parole Libérée. The Berlin press welcomed the film with warmth and conviction.

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Why did you decide to make this film?
François Ozon: I’d made a lot of films with strong female characters and wanted to make a film about male characters expressing their feelings and emotions. Often, in films, men are associated with action and women with emotions, but I wanted to tip that idea on its head. While I was looking for a suitable topic, I came across the La Parole Libérée website by chance and was extremely touched by several of the victim’s testimonies, including that of Alexandre (played by Melvil Poupaud), a devout Catholic who fought against the diocese of Lyon for two years in order to gain recognition as a victim and to ensure that the priest who abused him, and who is still alive, would no longer be in contact with children. So, I arranged to meet a few of the association’s members, they told me what happened, and I decided to make a fiction feature based on their true stories.

It’s a very topical theme.
I decided not to adopt a court-based approach. The film focuses more on the human aspect of the events. Indeed, there are some ongoing court cases at the moment, but I don't think the film will impact the pursuit of justice - especially since everything broached in the film has already been published in the French press. The film’s real topic is the freedom of speech, and the repercussions of the victims' freedom of speech. The stakes with this story, which is based on true events, were certainly much higher than with my previous films. I felt like I needed to be prepared to take on the fight I describe in the film. I did not want to betray the victims.

The film is split into three stages, with each one focusing on a different character.
The film’s structure actually draws inspiration from reality. Alexander started his fight against the institution on his own at the beginning, and then came an investigation, which encouraged other victims to come forward. The film’s structure almost plays out like a relay. It's almost as if a domino effect takes place. The stakes were a lot higher when writing this particular screenplay. Usually, you don’t drop a character after 45 minutes, but it was interesting to have this relay from one character to the other. Viewers really needed to sense that the characters were empowered, and that we immediately believed them.In each section, the idea was to follow the main character’s own rhythm. After Alexander's section, we meet Denis Ménochet's character and the film really accelerates, because he is more violent in his confrontation with the institution, causing the film’s register to change significantly. It the becomes increasingly dramatic in the third section, with Swann Arlaud'scharacter. It was quite exciting to change register from one character to the next.

You broach the paedophilic acts in question via the use of flashbacks. Why did you choose that device in particular?
The use of flashbacks was something we discussed a lot both when writing the screenplay and editing the film, as well as with the chief operator, Manuel Dacosse. It very quickly seemed necessary to show what happened, despite the film being about freedom of speech. And I’m not talking about the real facts per se, which cannot be represented on screen, but the circumstances, the context, the photo lab... When talking to the victims, they told me that people often have a hard time understanding why the children did not try to escape, so I wanted to show how children interact with adults, the hold that an adult can have over children, ultimately causing them to walk straight into the wolf’s mouth, because they are not aware of the danger that lies ahead. The flashbacks help to better cement the horrific events in a certain context, but the story as a whole is ultimately up to the viewer to piece together.

(Translated from French)

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