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October Movies Update

Grace à Dieu (“By the Grace of God”, France/Belgium 2018)
Veteran writer-director François Ozon’s dramatization of actual events in the childhood sexual abuse scandal that has shaken the Roman Catholic diocese of Lyon in recent years was awarded the “silver bear” grand jury prize at this February’s Berlin film festival, and deservedly so. The predator at the centre is an aging priest, Bernard Preynat (Bernard Verley). Outwardly many of the faithful had considered him to be charismatic, indeed “exemplary”.  At the same time, he was molesting numerous young boys.  Even after the hierarchy knew he was a pedophile guilty of criminal acts against minors, he had been allowed to continue in the ministry and have access to children.
            The story begins with one of Preynat’s victims, a father of five Alexandre Guérin (played by Melvil Poupaud; victims’ real names have been changed) who remains a devout practicing Catholic including having his two older sons confirmed. At first Guérin seeks contrition inside the church. Through the diocesan offices he agrees to meet with Fr. Preynat who admits to being a pedophile but doesn’t ask forgiveness. Praying together is hardly enough.  When Guérin gets a meeting with Cardinal Philippe Barbarin (François Marthouret) the cardinal appears sympathetic yet procrastinates and fails to take concrete action against Preynat. Moreover, under the then statute of limitations, the offences against Guérin had taken place too long ago for legal recourse. Indeed the film’s title comes from the unfortunate phrase uttered by the cardinal when later faced with public accountability, as if this legal limitation somehow reduced the extent of the crimes and the equally appalling institutional cover-up.
            Attention turns to more recent victims of Preynat, notably François Debord (Denis Ménochet), who has become an atheist. After initial reluctance, he throws himself into the pursuit of justice by spearheading an organization to expose and prosecute (“La Parole Libérée”, literally “the liberated word” translated as “Lifting the Burden of Silence”).  Another victim profiled is Emmanuel Thomassin (Swann Arlaud), whose life has been greatly impacted and who suffers from epileptic seizures triggered by the stress. Typically these men have long repressed the terrible memories of their abuse.  Sometimes parents knew but the crimes went unpunished. Now the traumatic effects are laid bare. And as accusations go public, the film shows how the consequences can have ripple effects on relationships, including causing rancor and divisions within families.    
            As powerful as the 2016 American Oscar best picture “Spotlight” set in Boston, the movie’s narrative shows the toll taken by both the evidence of criminal behavior (with a few brief flashbacks to the victims as children), and, as importantly, the complicity and cover-up that followed (using excerpts from correspondence exchanged with the church hierarchy). Despite Pope Francis’s call for zero tolerance of sexual abuse, we see an institution still trying to protect itself. There is nonetheless belated justice as cases go to trial. The movie’s updated postscript notes that Cardinal Barbarin was given a six-month suspended sentence in March 2019. Preynat was found guilty in July 2019 and defrocked.   This isn’t an easy movie to watch but it is sobering and compelling.  A-  
Pain and Glory (Spain 2019,
From Spanish master filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, this is one of his most personal movies and also one of his best. He has cast Antonio Banderas, the leading man in the films that brought him to global attention, in the semi-autobiographical role of an aging ailing filmmaker Salvador Mallo ruminating on his life and career. Banderas was awarded best actor at the Cannes festival for his sensitive performance. Some scenes are flashbacks to Salvador’s childhood and the influence of his mother (played by another Almodóvar favorite Penélope Cruz).  There is a wistful reconnection with a former lover Frederico (Leonardo Sbaraglia).  Another chapter involves Salvador’s complicated relationship with an actor Alberto Crespo (Asiar Etxeandia) who starred in one of his dramas and now struggles with heroin addiction.  Nearing 70 Almodovar has earned a place in the pantheon of great directors, but there’s more pathos than prideful reminiscence in this intimate memoir.  A- (my Toronto film festival rating)
The Laundromat (US 2019)
Helmed by Steven Soderbergh, and drawing on Jake Bernstein’s book Secrecy World about the “Panama Papers” money laundering scandal, this Netflix production now streaming also stars Antonio Banderas as Ramón Fonseca, a partner with Jürgen Mossack (Gary Oldman) in a shady Panama-based law firm that acts as a front for financial shenanigans involving shell corporations, tax evasion, dirty money and fraudulent practices on a global scale. As the shameless law partners, Fonseca and Mossack repeatedly break the fourth wall by acting as our narrator guides to the corrupting world of illicit money flows and networks.  The one sympathetic character is the grandmotherly Ellen Martin (an excellent Meryl Streep) who loses her husband (James Cromwell) in a cruise boat calamity and then is left doubly bereft when there is no insurance settlement due to a shell-company scam. While we watch other evidence of the idle rich profiting from financial schemes, or being taken to the cleaners, Ellen embarks on a personal crusade to get to the bottom of what has left her high and dry.  The movie meanders somewhat through a series of vignettes in which the “meek” get the short end from money-grubbers. But Ellen’s determination does culminate in a whistleblowing big reveal, not only bringing down the Panamanian house of cards but also pointedly taking a shot at big-money influence in the biggest tax haven of them all—America, of course. B+


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