I would be remiss in my duties as a critic if I let this current edition of QCinema pass (the festival ends on Tuesday, October 22) without letting you know of three must-see films. So here goes: a Spotlight-like
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By the Grace of God
You could call this the French version of Spotlight, and director Francois Ozon wouldn’t mind (Ozon last appeared on local screens in 2017 with the delicious slice of Eurosleaze Double Lover). Based on the production notes, it seems that’s what he was aiming for when he agreed to make this film based on the wishes of the victims of the predatory priest Bernard Preynat, who had been molesting boys in his Lyon-based Boy Scout troop for over 30 years.
Structured like a three-part relay race with the feel of a fictionalized documentary, By the Grace of God follows three men whose grievances against Preynat (Bernard Verley) have a snowball effect: First up is poised and attractive Lyon banker Alexandre Guérin (Melvil Poupaud), who springs into action when a newspaper item alerts him to the fact that Preynat is still working with pre-teen parishioners. Amazingly, Guérin meets with Preynat, and after a holding-hands prayer circle does not get him the closure he was seeking, decides to press charges even though the statute of limitations might have run out on his case. This complaint then leads the police to seek out other victims of the priest, leading them to François Debord (Denis Ménochet), a jocular firebrand who leads the charge into organizing a victim network, getting media attention, and widening the scope of the investigation to include the Lyon Cardinal Philippe Barbarin (François Marthouret), who knew of Preynat’s predations but didn’t report them. Debord’s passionate activism then inspires the chronically unemployed Emmanuel Thomassin (Swann Arlaud) to come forward with his own trauma, which includes epileptic seizures and, possibly, genital deformity.
By the Grace of God is of a piece with Robin Campillo’s AIDS period piece BPM (Beats Per Minute) in its fascination with activism, in the mechanisms by which people burning for a cause can change the system. It also moves with the inexorable speed of a news broadcast, with the soundtrack featuring the actors reading actual email exchanges between victims and church authorities lending urgency to the proceedings. And like a newscast, By the Grace of God lays out the facts and leaves you to grapple with the questions: Just how deeply does sexual trauma burrow into the lives of those who experience it? Where do you draw the line between believing in the Catholic faith and condoning the weaknesses of its Church? When does faith erode morality? Hard questions which make By the Grace of God, a remarkable entry in Ozon’s chameleonic filmography, a must-see. (Remaining screening: October 21, Monday, 2:15pm, Gateway.)
And Then We Danced
It’s a sign of how much farther we have to go in the general acceptance of homosexuality that even though Swedish director Levan Akin offers not much that’s new by way of the gay coming-out story in his dance drama And Then We Danced, a lot of it still feels revolutionary. Set against the backdrop of traditional dance in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, the film follows Merab (the revelatory Levan Gelbakhiani, who has the bone structure of Timothée Chalamet’s older, Eastern European cousin), a young man enduring Tbilisi’s diminished economic opportunities as he trains for the Georgian National Ballet. Dancing with his partner Mary (Ana Javakishvili) practically since childhood, Merab has fallen into a comfortable routine and the foregone conclusion that they are an item…until he develops feelings for his main rival for a spot in the national ensemble, a charismatic and dark-haired import from Batumi named Irakli (Bachi Valishvili).
The strict preconceptions of masculinity that frame the conflict isn’t a surprise. Neither is the trajectory of the plot. But there are a couple of elements that inject freshness: There is the unobtrusive omnipresence of cinematographer Lisabi Fridell’s camera, which at one point glides across a hastily arranged wedding celebration as it follows a heartbroken Merab, thereby capturing not only our protagonist’s specific situation but also instances of toxic masculinity and female denial in one unbroken shot. There is the abandon by which Gelbakhiani throws himself not just into his dance routines but also into his emotions. There are poignant moments of grace. And then there is the peek into the exotic milieu of Georgian dance. By the time Merab dances his final, cathartic dance—who says you can’t channel Flashdance in an Oscar international film submission?—you will be clapping in your seat. (Remaining screening: October 21, Monday, 9:00pm, Robinsons Galleria.)
Nothing is ever as it seems in Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles’ Bacurau. We are supposed to be a few years into a future where executions of criminals are broadcast live in Brazilian TV, but as we follow a young medical practitioner named Teresa (Bárbara Colen) back to her hometown to attend her grandmother’s funeral, it feels like a documentary on the crippling poverty in the northeastern Sertão, the Brazilian outback. Then as the eerie isolation of the region gives way to a baffling discovery that the town has vanished from satellite imagery and a flying saucer-shaped drone has been surveiling the movements of the town’s inhabitants, the film begins to take on the hallucinatory dread of a Picnic at Hanging Rock. And as the awful truth is revealed at the film’s midpoint—for the sake of a spoiler-free review, let’s just say no good can ever come from a gaggle of gun-touting tourists led by the always sinister Udo Kier—Bacurau explodes into a violent horror Western.
What Bacurau consistently feels like, no matter how many guises it takes on and how many influences it mashes together, is a satirical f**k you to Brazilian president and Trump wannabe Jair Bolsonaro, whose capitalist tendencies are personified in an oily politician named Tony Junior (Thardelly Lima). The two directors’ condemnation of Bolsonaro’s kowtowing to foreign interests cuts through the sharpest in the film’s climax, but his fevered freakout of a film is an equal-opportunity basher. (It can’t be an accident that the most important building in the town is its rinky-dink museum, and that the church has become a musty storage space.) It is a peculiar little thriller, and a wonderfully odd choice to win the Jury Prize at last May’s Cannes festivities. (Remaining screening: October 21, Monday, 6:45pm at Gateway.)