French queer auteur François Ozon is always full of surprises . His prolific output of films has ranged from the very profound and serious to the outright camp, and never failing to delight even with his less successful films. He changes tack again with his latest movie an engrossing take on a-ripped-from-the-headlines story that rocked the Catholic Church in France and was still unfolding when Ozon had wrapped up this film.
It’s another story of pedophile priests and how despite the irreversible harm they did to innocent children, the hierarchy of the Church swept the matter under the carpet and allowed the priests to continue working as if nothing ever happened.
This story is set in Lyon and Ozon tells it through the eyes of three adult men who for one reason or another feel compelled to confront the sexual abuse they suffered when they were members of the Boy Scouts. There is Alexandre (played by Melvil Poupaud a regular ‘Ozon’ actor) now in his 40’s and a successful banker married with 5 children. Still a devout Catholic but the trauma he has concealed from being abused as child is reignited after a casual conversation with an ex-school chum,
Calm but very determined he writes to the local Diocese to share his story and is invited to talk to a Church psychologist. She suggests that maybe he would like to confront the Priest who abused him, and Alexandre shocked that the man is still working in a Parish, agrees to the meeting. The elderly Bernard Preynat (Bernard Verley) confesses that the story is true, but refuses to ask for forgiveness. It’s the later part that Cardinal Barbarin (François Marthouret) is overly concerned about when the details of the meeting are relayed but even then he refuses to take any action against Preynet..
Incensed Alexandre files a Complaint with the Police against the Priest and the Cardinal but the problem is that the statute of limitations is 20 years so they cannot prosecute either man. However they do investigate and there in the Diocese’s Files find several letters of complaint over the years about Father Preynat that have been hidden away but no actions taken.
The letters lead to François (Denis Ménochet) who’s temperament is the opposite of Alexandre, and he gets all fired wanting vindication against Father Preynat in particular and the Church in general for allowing the abuse to continue. The next link in the chain is Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud) whose epilepsy is just one of the many issues that Preynat’s abuse left him and he has never been able to get his life back on track ever since. His charges against against the Priest reflected how is case was one of the very worse.
As the story unfolds and they manage to locate more victims the men form an activist union to “lift the burden of silence” on their abuse, not just to pursue legal action but also a support system for each other as most of them have never told a soul to date.
Ozon approaches the whole story almost like a documentary and even though this is dramatized account, he keep sridgely to both the timeline of the scandal, and includes major details that check out against the media coverage at the time.
The main focus is on the men’s incredulity that the Church that they all grew up in would do almost anything to protect the Priesthood rather than acknowledge and actively try to help all the young lives that were entrusted in their care and that they completely ruined.
Cardinal Barbarin wasn’t the Archbishop when most of the abuse occurred but even when he knew about it, he actively chose to string the victims along with fake sympathy hoping that it would all blow over especially because of the statute of limitations.
It’s an engrossing and scary tale told with a calm passion that packs a powerful punch to both your heart and gut. The fact that there are other cities like Lyon where this wholesale abuse went on unchecked in the name of God, sadly means that there are many more stories like this still out.
Bravo to Ozon for sharing this one and doing it so eloquently.
P.S. Since the movie opened in Berlinale where it won the Silver, Barbarin was found guilty of failing to report the sex abuse and given a 6 month suspended jail sentence. The Pope relieved him of his job as Archbishop BUT still allowed him to keep the rank and title.