In my capsule review of "The Report" I said it was not "Spotlight", the Oscar-winning film about journalists investigating wrongdoing in a prolific institution, in that case the Roman Catholic Church Archdiocese of Boston.
I have to use that same "it's not 'Spotlight'" line from Wednesday to describe "By The Grace of God," a film that looks at a French archdiocese covering up its own sexual abuse scandal involving a priest. This latest feature from François Ozon follows a number of victims of a certain priest who allegedly molested them from at least the 1980s to the early '90s. In the mid-2010's they start to successfully organize to call for appropriate action against that priest who preyed on so many of them, the traumatic stress of their years of abuse still evident. At least one of the victims is still faithful to the church decades later, others are not. Most are too old to file criminal complaints because of statute of limitations, but they want people to know that the priest is still actively involved with children and the church is doing nothing to protect them from the lecherous cleric.
"By The Grace of God" felt like an angry therapy session for abuse victims. The ramped up need to recklessly take down the Catholic Church for covering up abuse felt like verbal revenge porn. The bulk of victims in the film didn't care how they got their messages out so long as it pinned the priest, the archdiocese and the church as awful. I had more empathy to the devout Catholic who wanted resolution from within the church, but early on he tips off the police, so there goes his reasoning. He still had more common sense to let the system work its way out than to create media-hungry communications to promote their story (being on the media side of that equation I know how self-centric groups can be ruthless in their appeal).
The film can't be compared to "Spotlight" because it didn't have the investigative or shock value exhibited at uncovering a sexual abuse scandal. Alas, "By The Grace of God" only attacked one priest while the latter looked to identify the entirety of the problem within one archdiocese. To see a documented account of one priest watch the 2006 documentary "Deliver us From Evil". No matter, a 130-minute moody piece about bringing down the church takes all of the emotional punch out of the widespread allegations it presents. A pre-determined solution is less interesting than the problem it seeks to investigate.
Wondering further into the psychological field of right/wrong, good/bad is the documentary "The Human Factor" about wrestling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the George H.W. Bush and Clinton administrations when a resolution to solve decades of conflict always seemed within reach. A number of negotiators in these high profile talks lend their views about what happened among the US presidents, Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arrafat, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and at least four Israeli Prime Ministers (Yitzhak Smahri, Yitzhak Rabin, Eduh Barak and Benjamin Natanyahu) in over 10 years of negotiations.
The conflict between the dueling territories goes deeper than just lines drawn on a map. The conflict is more than knowing how to get people to compromise. One of the negotiators said having an enemy is easy, peace is hard. When dealing with leaders who have to represent the best interest of their constituents, particularly in a decades-long violent fight between the two, a lot is at stake. But no worries, here comes the US trying to play world police. However, we couldn't even use our world power strength after the end of the Cold War to solve it. A big laugh and plenty of boo's came from the audience when President Donald Trump is seen at a press conference with Netanyahu saying a "bigger, better" deal is ahead for the disputed lands.
For anyone not familiar with the conflict they will learn a lot from the documentary. The religious and territorial battle lines are something US leaders can't connect to directly, not to mention Jews made up the bulk of the negotiating time, or as one person noted they served as "the lawyer" for Israel at all of the peace talks. Where was Palestine's "lawyer" at the negotiating table? No comment. It really isn't so easy as drawing territory boundary lines, and since the US isn't living there, we don't know what would actually be right for these foreign entities even if our own political interest is at stake.
A negotiator made a bold observations: Israel looks forward to the future, meaning what will happen tomorrow; The Palestinians look forward to a future that means fixing the past first, and then the future that comes after it. Will the "future" hold a peaceful resolution? Not anytime soon.
Knowing that I was getting tired from all of the movies I've seen, I opted to see only one more movie on Thursday and skipped a reportedly confusing, unsatisfactory movie called "Idol" at 8:30. I opted for a 1991 comedy called "Defending Your Life" about a man in a "purgatory" of sorts called Judgment City where his future is based on facing his fears when he was still alive.
This Albert Brooks comedy starring he and Meryl Streep is a light and warm feature that had a crazy, busted ass 35mm print to play at the Philadelphia Film Center. The nostalgia of seeing the slightly rough film stock run on a big screen was refreshing, I'll give it that. Hearing the print's repeated sounds of lightsabers whooping throughout the theater was highly troublesome. Did the film society even do a run through of this film before the festival? The projection was less than adequate and the soundtrack was hideous. It took me back to when a 3D print of "Love" showed at the festival and it started 80 minutes late for projection issues. If the venue can't play a film correctly through a legit film projector or a digital projection system, don't play it. Either the print was so old and imperfect or the projectionist is used to plugging in a USB for a digital file that making sure the film is in focus and the sound adequate is not part of their job anymore.
Film society Executive Director Andrew Greenblatt said this was the first film selected for the festival following the death of Rip Torn in July. Did they pry open his coffin and rip a decrepit print from his dead hands to show? This format should not have been shown if the video and sound quality would be so suitable to a paying audience that such disruptions are given the green light. For a corporation focused on the art of cinema, this is a harsh blemish on what they present to preserve and protect the film medium.
As for the movie itself, it was fine.
The Whistlers: Very Good
The Lodge: Poor
A Hidden Life: Fair/Good
Deerskin: Very Good
Varda By Agnes: Good
Les Misérables: Excellent
It Must Be Heaven: Excellent
The Truth: Good
Paradise Hills: Good
Porno: Very Good
Oh Mercy!: Good
Young Ahmed: Very Good
The Report: Good
I Lost My Body: Excellent
A White, White Day: Fair
By The Grace of God: Fair
The Human Factor: Very Good
Defending Your Life: (not rated)