By the Grace of God (Grâce à Dieu) press conference with François Ozon, Melvil Poupaud, Denis Ménochet and cast
Those who cast an eye over French filmmaker François Ozon’s considerable body of work will register the prominence of his female characters. With noticeable regularity, his stories revolve around a female protagonist, whether it’s Catherine Deneuve as an underappreciated trophy wife in Potiche, Charlotte Rampling as a widow-in-denial in Under the Sand, or Romola Garai as a lively writer in Angel. Grâce à Dieu is his fifth work to compete at the Berlin International Film Festival, and is a moving, sometimes distressing, multi-faceted look at a group of men who were abused by a Catholic priest, and the lifelong ramifications they must deal with. Elements of the story become even more chilling due to the tragic fact that the film is based upon a true story. Ozon refrains from overtly demonising the Church (his work is far too subtly complex for that), but the grievous ambiguity of the Church’s official response is difficult to fathom for a viewer, let alone the real-life victims who took on the institution. Ozon (along with his cast and crew) met the press ahead of the picture’s premiere at this year’s Berlinale.
The inspiration for the film was quite straightforward, according to Ozon: “One day on the internet I found the website for the association ‘Lift the Burden’ – a French association that you see in the film. And I was very touched by a number of the true stories, including Alexandre, who was played by Melvil Poupaud. In the diocese of Lyon, he fought for years to have his status as a victim recognised.”
Grâce à Dieu is so topical that certain title cards might need to be changed as the film is rolled out. Several issues dramatised in the movie are currently before the French courts, who will likely make a ruling before the film is released in many territories. But the legal aspect of the story didn’t figure into Ozon’s reasoning: “I wasn’t looking at this at all in terms of the legal situation. I wanted to look at it with human eyes. There is a trial underway, but [Grâce à Dieu] won’t have an impact in that sense, because everything I talk about in the film has already been covered by the French press.”
Melvil Poupaud discussed the challenges of playing a real-life person, but this challenge was quickly overcome by the very chance to make another film with Ozon. “I’d already worked with Francois twice in the past, and I was already hoping that he would call me again to work with him. I like the way he works. I like the fact that he’s fast on set, and that he’s really very amiable with actors, and he was very inspired and touched by this subject matter. It’s very different from his other films. This distance, I thought, was just the right amount of distance, and I was very interested in making the screenplay. There was nothing redundant or superficial. Furthermore, I didn’t want to meet the real Alexandre before shooting, because I didn’t want to imitate him. I didn’t want to produce a biopic. I wanted to create a character, and I think that Ozon had already done all the work and investigation.”
Ozon commented on his own filmography, acknowledging that while he is known as a director of women’s stories, he wanted to flip that notion. “I wanted to make a film with men at the centre, expressing their feelings and emotions. Often in cinema, emotion is the realm of women and action is the realm of men, and I wanted to turn that on its head.”
Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.