By the Grace of God / Gelobt sei Gott

Alexandre is a successful banker with a cornflake packet family and 5 kids. But he has a secret – as a boy he was raped by a priest at a scout camp. He learns by chance that the priest is not just still in business, but that he’s still in charge of young children.

A devout Catholic, Alexandre first pursues a complaint within the church. Fans of dramatic tension may not care much for the subsequent scenes of e-mails being typed. But the higher up in the Church he reaches, the more Alexandre meets bureaucrats trying to pass the buck. So he tries to launch a civil case, which is thwarted by the incidents being more than 20 years old..

Here Alexandre comes across other victims of abuse by the same priest, who are launching a campaign to bring him, and the Church, to justice. The campaign prides itself of being full of professionals, which is useful, as its easier to get press attention if you’re campaigning for “undeserving” victims. It also means that rather too many meetings take part in posh dinner parties.

For a film that’s over 2 hours (and pretty much no film should be over 2 hours) there’s a lot of repetition, as victims repeat similar experiences. More problematically there is a heap of bureaucracy. We don’t really need to hear the discussions about setting up a facebook group or an ill-fated attempt to hire a sky writer (which fails because it breaches some legal regulation).

In the tactical discussion about how to take the campaign forwards, everyone agrees that they should stick to the facts and avoid sensationalism. Now this is good advice when writing a press release – less so when constructing a film about such scandalous events. The abuse is absolutely outrageous, but no-one appears to be very outraged, and everyone stoically gets on with their lives.

This changes when we meet Emmanuel, the only who seems to be truly traumatised by his experiences. Emmanuel has epileptic fits and erectile dysfunction and finds it hard to hold down a relationship. He is currently seeing someone, but this seems doomed to failure, not least because of her inability to understand what he’s been through (and is still going through). Emmanuel is supported by his mother, but his estranged father is decidedly unsympathetic.

Through Emmanuel we finally find someone who can articulate just what a horrific experience we are being shown. Young children were put into the care of men who methodically abused them. And these were not just any old men but Men of God. Also, its not a fairy tale – all this really happened.

The film does show righteous rage at the Church’s systematic cover up of the events, but this is depicted as just being a single case. In two separate occasions, the abuser is confronted by his victims, but he comes across as more pathetic than evil, unable to understand the enormity of his crime. And yet the number of abusing priests who have been recently discovered – in France and in other countries – led one reporter to comment that if children were abused by clowns at a similar rate, no-one would take their kids to visit clowns.

By The Grace of God is a righteous film, and on the right side, but its a little too clinical and controls its feeling too much. These leads it to drag in parts, which should never have been the case with a story as interesting and as important as this one.

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