Francois Ozon's Berlin Winner 'By the Grace of God' Clears Final Legal Challenge

By the Grace of God Still 2 - Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of Berlinale

The Catholic Church abuse drama will be released Wednesday following a pair of lawsuits by those named in the film.

Francois Ozon's Berlin Silver Bear winner By the Grace of God has jumped its final legal hurdle, clearing the way for its wide release in France on Wednesday.

The ripped-from-the-headlines Catholic Church abuse drama had faced two legal challenges that sought to block its release by those named in the film, Father Bernard Preynat and former church volunteer Regine Maire.

Preynat, who is accused of molesting more than 80 boys, is awaiting trial, which is expected to be scheduled later this year. The priest asked that the film be held from release indefinitely because it would harm his presumption of innocence, but a Paris court ruled Monday against his motion.

Maire, whose trial on charges of covering up the abuse took place in January, had sued to have her name removed from the film. The court ruled Tuesday that "the dissemination of information already well known to the public does not constitute an infringement of respect for private life" in rejecting Maire's suit.

While her suit would not have technically stopped the release, lawyers for Ozon and producer Mandarin Production argued that the need to recall the film from theaters and recut the film would effectively result in "the death of the film."

“The cost of repatriating the copies delivered to 307 cinemas would be 50,000 euros, then the soundtrack would have to be redone, the actors summoned, and the mix redone, which could take two or three weeks," lawyers for Mandarin Production argued. They said that it would also cause the loss of over 1 million euros spent on the promotional ad campaign, cause a financial loss for the theaters that have booked the film and impact the film's release abroad.

The director changed the names of the victims in the film, but not those of Preynat, Maire and Cardinal Philippe Barbarin. The latter two are set to receive verdicts March 7 on charges of covering up the abuse. Ozon had argued that the information in the film has been publicly available through the courts and the press.

“If Ms. Maire recognizes herself as guilty in the film, it's not my fault. I trust Lyon's justice system to uphold the rights of freedom of expression and the creation of a film that has just been awarded at the Berlin Film Festival, and which will help promote social debate,” lawyers for Ozon said in a statement at the hearing.

Ozon shot the bulk of the film outside of France because of opposition in the conservative Catholic region of Lyon, and said that CanalPlus denied funding because of the topic.

The film had strong sales at the European Film Market in Berlin, selling wide across Europe, as well as Canada, Australia, Latin America and Japan.