By the Grace of God
by writer/director François Ozon
My Secret Inspiration
My starting point for this film came from a desire to explore masculine fragility and sensitivity. My films are often about strong women. This time, I wanted to show men suffering and expressing deep emotions. As a matter of fact, my working title for the project was The Crying Man.
In 2018, I discovered La Parole Libérée (Lift the Burden of Silence), a website created by men who had been abused as children by a Catholic priest in Lyon. I was particularly touched by Alexandre, a fervent Catholic who was finally able to tell his story at the age of forty. The website was full of powerful personal accounts, interviews, articles and email exchanges with local Catholic authorities. I’d found my subject. I would tell the story of three men, and how each of them decides to lift the burden of silence: one within the Church, one through the media, and one in the justice system.
The film begins with a David and Goliath battle, as Alexandre takes on the Catholic institution. Then he hands the fight over to François, who creates a collective, an association to support the victims. Through the association, a new victim comes forward: Emmanuel. These three men are fighting the same fight, each in their own way, with their own weapons, and while grappling with their own family and social repercussions.
The film is centered around words, but it was also necessary to conjure images to evoke the violence these men experienced as children. For each of them, I created a flashback that shows almost nothing—a short walk, a door opening, a tent closing—but suggests everything in the space of an instant, through places, the use of light....
As I worked on these scenes, after interviewing many victims about the times they were abused, suddenly I remembered a scene from my own childhood that I had totally forgotten, or perhaps blocked out.
One day, at catechism, when I was eight years old, we were playing a game of hide-and-seek. A priest I liked very much told me he knew a great hiding place and took me there. I followed him innocently to a dark doorway, where he held me tight. It was strange. I felt his adult body against my small frame. His breathing was so loud. I remember thinking, “He's breathing too loud, they’ll find us!” Now I understand he was fighting against repressed lust. A few long minutes passed. I can still see myself pushing him away and running to join my friends. The game of hide-and-seek was over.
This long-lost memory triggered a feeling of vertigo. Suddenly I had a deeper understanding of the victims. And I realized that I myself had come very close to a horrifying and tragic thing that could have greatly damaged me. If that priest had crossed the line, it would have altered the course of my life.
That's when I truly understood why I wanted to make this film. Why I needed to make it.