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By the Grace of God

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

By the Grace of God

“By the Grace of God” scorches the screen. It is very rare to see a powerful film explore its subject at the height of its disturbing influence. See it for quality and for the willingness of its makers to take on the Catholic Church at this moment of deep conflict. Few people are brave enough to tackle a contemporary problem this strongly while all sides are mired in disagreement. Hats off to everyone connected to making this French film.

Alexandre (Melvil Poupaud) goes public with his anger forty years after he was sexually assaulted as a pre-teen in the 1980s by Priest Bernard Preynat (Bernard Verley). He reached that decision when he was put off repeatedly after his several approaches to Cardinal Bezbarin (Francis Marthouret). Priest Preynat admits his guilt to Alexandre but refuses to resign.

This movie focuses on the priest’s sustained refusal to stop protecting young boys from the Catholic hierarchy. Over time, Alexandre enlists two friends who join him in his determination. They don’t reach their decision easily, caught as they still are by the religion that has guided them all their lives.

The three men join for their purpose with full knowledge of the spread and depth of the suffering. Their word spreads through the code of silence while church officials try to slow it down. As the sexual offenses are exposed, the Catholic hierarchy watches the scandal spread. They do all they can to suppress it.

This film, in the extraordinary hands of director Francois Ozon, gives us the initial hesitations of the men who eventually go public in their determination to stop clerics from abusing young boys. They present the reluctance and hurt of those men along with their deep determination to succeed. As they face a church hierarchy that remains silent, we in the audience, whatever our philosophies may be, are stunned as we watch the determination of the clerics to continue to protect the guilty. We are drawn to the exposers who are trying to stop the hurt of young people as they deal with their own wounds.

The principals are superb in showing how the damage they suffered still affects their emotions after decades. The church silence broke in 2016. Cardinal Bezbarom was found guilty in 2019. Pope Francis refused the resignation of the guilty man.

With rare strength, this movie conveys the shadings in the beliefs of both the church and of the men who have decided to come forward. Even those who do are suffering while taking action against their church. This strong film steps deeply into the struggle by presenting all the subtleties of the arguments for and against exposure. This is not an attack. It is a deep exploration of details that come together in the hands of men who love their church but are determined to correct the tragedy imposed by priests on so many young boys whose lives have been ruined.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : By the Grace of God
Word Count : 492
Running Time : 2:17
Rating : R
Date : 27 October 2019

This entry was posted on October 27, 2019, in Crime, Drama.

Joker

Movie Review by Joan Ellis –

Joker

If Joker had been made by ordinary people, it would have been dismissed as an overdone dive into violence. Instead, a team headed by actor Joaquin Phoenix and director Todd Phillips has created a wicked nightmare on film. The arguments generated by its violence spring from fear of spreading violence in young people. Whatever your theories, the combination of acting, music, and filming will glue you to your seat. Just try to look away.

We meet Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) who carries a card explaining that he is infected with a disease of frequent inappropriate laughter. That being the premise, director/writer Todd Phillips and his team create two hours of a man laughing as he indulges himself in his inherent criminal brutality. The background sound – sometimes musical, sometimes noise – is fulltime frightening.

In the film’s biggest weakness, Arthur asks his therapist for more meds. “You’re on seven already,” is her reply. If indeed she is a professional, we have little respect for her wisdom. Whenever Fleck becomes violent, the grim atmosphere is heightened by his expressions and the dark music. Even when this sick guy is taking good care of his bedridden mother, we are scared for her. The junk laden filthy subway is yet another scene of one of his memorable explosions.

Well into the movie and sunk in dark expectation, we watch Fleck walking around the city with frightening expressions and reactions to the smallest triggers. By now, we are scared in the certainty that even worse will come. With a cigarette hanging full time from his mouth and his head wrapped in smoke, we can feel the audience sinking into fear of what will come next.

As I think about the fear I felt while watching, I realize that Joaquin Phoenix has managed to create a man riddled with a sickness so deep that we are scared even in the protection of the theater. Every puff of smoke, every grimace, every hideous laugh is wrapped in a score that magnifies everything that is unfolding.

As you leave the theater, you may be soaked in a new determination to avoid subways, elevators, and dark city streets. The simple proof of the quality of this filming is that the fear audiences feel is solid proof that Joaquin Phoenix and Todd Phillips have created two hours of hideously infectious suggestion. The why of that is partly due to new filming techniques that are well suited to terror.

Banning books or movies always leads to demands for more censorship. No, thank you. Let this movie be an example of the ability of expert filmmakers who succeed in lifting whole audiences right up into the story they are telling on screen. I will never forget the fear I felt eight decades ago when I watched Spencer Tracy create Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Though it didn’t turn me into a savage, it still pops back into my head now and then. Verdict? They made a good movie.

Film Critic : Joan Ellis
Film Title : Joker
Word Count : 501
Running Time : 2:02
Rating : R
Date : 13 October 2019