OUR FATHER, THE DEVIL Review: The Rage that Follows
There are some wounds that cannot be healed. Some psychological and emotional damage that no time or distance can make better. Some horrors live within a heart and soul for an entire life, perhaps at the edges of a psyche, but always there, a constant cloud in what should be a beautiful sky. And even the opportunity to seek revenge on those that caused such trauma, does nothing to help.
Our Father, The Devil, the feature debut of actor and filmmaker Elli Foumbi, tells the story of one woman's harrowing experience in fighting the most evil person she has ever known. At times a bit uneven, yet focused on its characters, it features an incredible lead performance and scenes of intensity and terror, in which you will find yourself questioning how you might do things differently, or not.
Marie (Babetida Sadjo), an immigrant from an unnamed African country, has found something of a life in a small town in the south of France. She's a talented chef, whose talents are perhaps a bit wasted at the local retirement home. Though nonetheless, she has good friends, a local bartender can barely conceal his crush on her, and her mentor Jeanne (Martine Amisse) has just bequethed her a small, isolated cottage overlooking the Pyranees. It would seem she has equilibirum, until one day. Father Patrick (Souleymane Sy Savane), a new Catholic priest in the town, appears at the retirement home. The moment she hears his voice, she knows: this is the man who raped and tortured her in her native country.
In a moment of the most quiet yet most palpable and barely simmering rage that has been festering for years, Marie overpowers Father Patrick and takes him to her cottage. Away from prying eyes and ears, she can finally confront the man who made her what she is - or perhaps more accurately, unmade her so she can never be whole. But is he who she thinks he is? He swears he is not this monster (of course he would), and some telltale signs are missing. Her plan is only half-formed, and she knows that it cannot end well - but what price is worth her revenge for the horrors she experienced?
Psychological thriller, revenge horror films, often see a character slash, burn, and shoot their way through multiple spaces, and characters, to get to the single person at the heart of their trauma. In this case, Foumbi asks us to focus on a single space, and on one person, Marie, who has the object of their revenge in their hands. Marie is, in one way, an ordinary person, trying to task herself with violence beyond her comprehension; except that, she has been subjected to violence beyond comprehension. Is she capable of enacting the same? Can she, without positivity, inflict torture on someone the way it was done to her? Will it fill the aching void that is with her constantly? Will it make her as bad as him, or worse?
This focus on just a few characters, a few choice locations, and with many moments of silence that is palpataing with anger, pain, and lack of control. Marie might have a job with a certain status, but she's still an immigrant, treated as such by her boss, and the white people of the town with few exceptions. Father Patrick, though also an immigrant, is not only a man, but has taken on that revered mantle of Catholic priest - it lets him hide in plain sight, maintaining something of a position of control over Marie and others, a benefit of doubt automatically granted him in a Catholic country, that is not granted to those such as Marie who put in the work daily. The balance of power between them can never be equal, so perhaps Marie feels she has no choice but to upset that through her actions.
Sadjo is astonishing in this performance - at first seemingly calm, not quite serene but at least with an equilibrium of someone who has found a certain peace even if it isn't what they imagined for their life. Then how the pain, the anguish, the fear, the humiliation, have all swirled together into rage - Foumbi often allows the camera to just watch Sadjo, as all those emotions flicker across her face and body. She is constasntly chided ny others for her lack of communication - but she knows that most, if not all, are incapable of truly hearing her, of truly understanding what she has endured, and the person she has become.
The story doesn't quite stick the landing - even with fresh revelations that reset much of what Marie experienced, given her behaviour, the final moments perhaps feel too much of a shift to carry the weight they should. Even so, Foumbi has crafted quite a unique revenge drama with Our Father, The Devil, one that eschews bloodshed for real pain and trauma, and asks us how far would we be willing to go to try and heal that which is too scarred to bear.
Our Father, The Devil will be released in select theaters including the Quad in New York on August 25th and the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles on September 1st.
Our Father, the Devil
- Ellie Foumbi
- Ellie Foumbi
- Babetida Sadjo
- Souleymane Sy Savane
- Jennifer Tchiakpe