By the Grace of God
The latest film about the worldwide clergy sexual abuse crisis is a fairly accurate narrative about recent revelations and developments in France. The film begins in 2014 when Alexandre (Melvil Poupaud), a husband and proud father of five, learns that the priest who sexually abused him when he was young, Father Bernard Preynat (Bernard Verley), is still working with children. Alexandre is from Lyon but lives in Paris with his family, who are devout Catholics. Knowing he must take action, Alexandre first contacts the Archdiocese of Lyon in efforts to meet with Cardinal Barbarin (François Marthouret). He meets a psychologist, who listens to him with kindness but whose mandate is to reconcile victims with their aggressors rather than making sure priests no longer have contact with children.
Alexandre reaches out to other survivors of Preynat’s abuse, François (Denis Ménochet) and Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud). François is divorced and in a tumultuous relationship with another woman. He has a difficult time staying employed and shows signs of PTSD. His mother, who did not believe him at the time, steps up to support him and the organization. Emmanuel is married with children but no longer believes. The three men join together to begin an organization of survivors of Preynat’s abuse. They start a website and begin to put pressure on Cardinal Barbarin to stop covering up for Preynat and to remove him from ministry.
Director François Ozon, who wrote the script based on actual newspaper coverage of events, draws emotional power and depth from the performances of the three men. While there is nothing explicitly visual in the film, the pathos with which the men tell their stories is heartbreaking. It is not an easy film to watch.
The film’s title comes from Cardinal Barbarin’s own words, who said at a press conference in Lourdes in 2016, “By the grace of God, most of the facts of sexual abuse by priests against children fall outside the statute of limitations.” The courageous victims still pursued a private prosecution, allowed by French law. The cardinal’s words revealed the prevailing problem of the hierarchy protecting the institution over children. By the Grace of God is in French with English subtitles.
Not yet rated • Verbal descriptions of clergy sexual abuse.
The Peanut Butter Falcon
Zak (Zack Gottsagen) is a 22-year-old man with Down syndrome. His family has abandoned him at a retirement home in North Carolina’s low country, where he is cared for by Eleanor (Dakota Johnson). He shares a room with Carl (Bruce Dern), who is determined to help Zak escape and live his dream of becoming a professional wrestler—like the Salt Water Redneck (Thomas Haden Church), whom he watches over and over in an old video. Eleanor, however, scolds Carl for encouraging Zak, but the old man still wants to help him.
Zak escapes in his underwear and stows away on a fishing boat that Tyler (Shia LaBeouf) steals as he flees from two men who accuse him of interfering with their crabbing business. Tyler is dealing with guilt over his brother’s death and is making bad decisions. However, he is taken with Zak and, over a few days, they become a team. He digs into his backpack for clothes and boots for the young man, and teaches him to swim. Tyler promises to bring Zak to train with the Salt Water Redneck and encourages him to take a wrestler’s name—thus, the Peanut Butter Falcon.
Meanwhile, Eleanor is on a desperate search to find Zak, whom she believes cannot fend for himself. Zak and Tyler get religion from a blind preacher who gives them the means to build a raft. And they set sail. Eleanor and the two young men finally meet up and arrive at the home of the Salt Water Redneck, only to find the training camp closed.
The Peanut Butter Falcon is a charming movie, filled with humanity and heart, even if it doesn’t always make narrative sense. Writer/directors Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz have created a film that affirms human kindness without being sappy. Gottsagen’s performance is anchored in reality and demonstrates the dignity of every human person. LaBeouf is excellent and shows just how attractively one’s generosity of spirit can be portrayed in cinema. I loved the film for its warmth and lack of cynicism.
A-3, PG-13 • Fighting, wrestling violence.
The Riot Act
In a small Alabama town in 1901, the wealthy owner of an opera house, Dr. Pearrow (Brett Cullen), is angry when the married lead singer (Brace Harris) wants to run away with the doctor’s daughter, Allye (Lauren Sweetser). Pearrow tells the singer that he better be on the train leaving town that night. But Pearrow later shoots and kills the singer and thinks he has killed his daughter, too, because she disappears.
This ends the opera-house culture of the town. But over the next two years, a helpful, ambitious August (Conner Price) hires a vaudeville troupe to come and entertain the town. Meanwhile, a ghost has been tormenting Dr. Pearrow, and things get even worse once the vaudevillians arrive with a young woman who resembles Allye.
This independent film is an atmo-spheric, historic drama/ghost story that deals with themes of human weakness, guilt, power, and vengeance. It is a strong first feature from writer/director Devon Parks, even if it is a little slow going and too smart for itself.
Not yet rated, PG-13 • Gun violence, revenge. Available to rent or purchase on iTunes.