Rolling off its triumph at the Berlin Film Festival where it won the Silver Bear, François Ozon’s Catholic church sexual abuse drama By “The Grace Of God” had a strong theatrical bow in France where it sold nearly 50,000 tickets on 290 screens on Feb. 20, its first day out
One of the best opening day for a French film so far this year, “By The Grace of God” is inspired by the scandal surrounding Bernard Preynat, a Roman Catholic priest who was accused of having abused scouts from 1986 to 1991, and was finally indicted in 2016 after several victims decided to file lawsuits. He is due to be tried later this year.
Produced by Eric and Nicolas Altmayer at Mandarin Cinema, “By The Grace of God” faced some legal turmoil in the run up to its release as Preynat’s lawyers attempted to delay the distribution of the film in France, arguing that it could have an impact on the outcome of the priest’s trial. But the court rejected the request and Mars Films proceeded with the release.
The movie’s release also coincides with a politically-charged climate within the Catholic Church. Earlier this week, Pope Francis met with senior bishops from around the world to discuss the protection of minors.
“By the Grace of God” follows Alexandre, a man in his 40s living in Lyon with his wife and children, who discovers that the priest who abused him decades ago continues to work with children and teenagers. He joins forces with François and Emmanuel, who were also victims of the priest, to bring justice and “lift the burden of silence” about what they endured. The cast includes Melvil Poupaud, Denis Ménochet and Swann Arlaud.
The movie has earned near-unanimous stellar reviews following its world premiere at the Berlinale. Variety’s Guy Lodge said “By The Grace of God” was different from ‘Spotlight’ which also dealt with sexual abuse in the Catholic Church but was told from the perspective of investigative journalists. In Ozon’s film, the story unfolds through the eyes of those “who suffered at the Catholic Church’s hands,” said Lodge.
“Ozon’s conscientiously researched screenplay finds significant tonal variation within that remit, establishing distinct personalities and outlooks for the four semi-fictionalized men driving its narrative; as focus shifts from one to the next, the tenor of the filmmaking changes several times over the course of a hefty but consistently gripping 137 minutes,” said Lodge’s review in Variety.
Sold and co-produced by Playtime, “By The Grace of God” has been acquired in most territories around the world. A U.S. deal is currently being negotiated. Playtime’s co-founder Nicolas Brigaud-Robert said “the film struck a chord among distributors and audiences alike because it addresses the consequences of such trauma on one’s identity, sense of masculinity and place in society.”
The film marks a departure for Ozon whose best-known films are “The Swimming Pool” which competed at Cannes in 2003; the BAFTA-nominated “Potiche” and “8 Women.”
Eric Marti at Comscore France pointed out that ‘By The Grace of God’ benefited from the strong reviews, the Berlinale Silver Bear prize, as well as the controversy surrounding the film.
The positive word-of-mouth should also continue pushing the B.O. results forward. Although it’s not the best kick-off of the week (the submarine thriller “The Wolf’s Call” ranked ahead), the score of “By The Grace of God” on opening day is a great achievement considering the difficult topic of the movie, argued Marti, who added that it’s been a strong start of the year for French films. Besides “By The Grace of God” and “The Wolf’s Call,” the other box office successes of this first quarter include the comedies “Serial (Bad) Weddings 2,” “City Hunter” and “Invisibles.”
Mars Films will be increasing the number of screens for “By The Grace of God” from 290 to over 340 during the second week.