By the Grace of God Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

Pros: production by François Ozon; script based on real events; frank conversation about pedophilia; actions of activists Cons: the film lasts two hours, all this time events will develop slowly “By the will of God” / Grace à Dieu

Drama genre
Directed by Francois Ozon
Starring: Melville Poupaud (Alexandre), François Marture (Cardinal Philippe Barbarin), Bernard Verly (Bernard Preyn), Denis Menochet (François), Swann Arlaud (Gilles), etc.
Companies Mandarin Films, FOZ, Mars Films
Year of release 2018 (in Ukraine 2019)
IMDB website

The main character of the film is the Lyon banker Alexander. One day he learns that a Roman Catholic priest named Bernard Prein, who repeatedly molested Alexander when he was a child, is still working with children. This news shocks the hero and he, being the father of five children, intends to demand the priest’s resignation. To do this, you need to take a difficult step – tell church representatives about what happened and meet with the offender.

These actions do not help Alexander achieve his goal. The priest continues to work, and the influential Cardinal Philippe Barbarin assures that the incident is over. In fact, everything is not like that. When the priest headed the scouting organization, 70 boys became his victims – each of them suffered psychological trauma. Not everyone is ready to remember the horror they went through, much less talk about it publicly. At some point, Alexander is found by those who intend to achieve justice and make the case public. They create the human rights organization “Freed Word”, collecting evidence of sexual abuse of children. This is no longer enough to expose the problem within the church. According to French law, a minor victim can appeal to the court within twenty years. But the activists reported to the prosecutor’s office much later, so the court cannot consider the case due to the expiration of the statute of limitations.


By the Will of God speaks openly about what children had to go through when they trusted their teachers and did not learn to recognize what actions committed against them were considered criminal. The picture of the four victims explains why it took them so long to speak up and try to punish their offender. The tape also mentioned those who were unable to overcome themselves and talk about the details of what happened.

François Ozon, who wrote the film, delicately suggests how important it is to provide moral support to victims of sexual violence. Not all parents reacted adequately to what happened; some had no idea what was happening at all. Moreover, even those who were able to become a support for their children did not dare to go against the church.


The priest Bernard Preyn and the high-ranking cardinal Philippe Barbarin are the only characters whose names were not changed in the film, continuing to make the pedophilia case world famous. For decades this was impossible due to the patronage of Barbarin, who protected the reputation of the Catholic Church. He knew what Prein was doing with the children, but the cardinal turned a blind eye. In real life, this led to a lawsuit against the cardinal, who was accused of covering up pedophilia. In March 2019, he was sentenced to six months’ probation.

The fact that the script for “By the Will of God” follows the facts is evidenced by the beginning of the film. It is dedicated to the long correspondence between the main character Alexander and Cardinal Philippe Barbarin. With the appearance of other heroes, the film becomes a reflection of an investigation conducted not by journalists, but by victims. Considering the specific nature of the film, you should not expect a fast pace from it – the director’s main task was to collect evidence of crimes and show the injuries of adults. And this is incredibly important. Firstly, not to judge the victims. Secondly, to understand what they are going through.


For this purpose, Francois Ozon created a film that has nothing in common with his previous works (the director previously released the thriller “Two-Faced Lover”, and also directed the cult French films “8 Women”, “Swimming Pool”, “In the House”). Ozon abandoned his usual explicit scenes and sneaky humor, focusing on the documentary basis of the feature film. Thanks to this approach, the drama “By the Will of God” won the Grand Jury Prize at the 69th Berlin Film Festival.

The stories of the main characters of the French film “By the Will of God” echo the stories of boys from other countries. Therefore, the release of the film on big screens is extremely important for understanding the situation, which cannot be resolved by the Pope’s statement condemning pedophile priests.


The drama “By the Will of God” is far from an entertaining movie; this must be taken into account before watching. The film exposes crimes that have been perpetrated against children for decades and shows how important support is for survivors of sexual abuse at a young age.

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