Francois Ozon’s new film opens with a shot of the Archbishop of Lyon, as he steps out in full regalia on to the balcony of the city’s hilltop cathedral. Silently surveying the rooftops below, he presents an image which speaks eloquently of the grandiosity to be found in the upper reaches of the Catholic Church.

Ozon is telling the story of a group of men sexually abused in childhood by the French priest Father Bernard Preynot, who was defrocked by the Catholic Church’s ecclesiastical court eight months ago.

Family business: Melvil Poupaud and Aurelia Petit.

Family business: Melvil Poupaud and Aurelia Petit.

It comes as no surprise that he originally thought of doing it as a documentary. It has the features which so often distinguish reality from fiction. With an unwieldy cast of characters and shifting points of view, it skips about without regard to the rules of narrative shapeliness. Yet wherever it goes, it always circles back to the same point. The campaigners at the centre of the story are not victims. They’re heroes, brave and determined enough to disrupt their lives to expose a criminal and the Church, which allowed his crimes to go on for so long.

The group is brought together by Alexandre Guerin (Melvin Poupaud), a Paris banker, who has just learned that Preynot, who molested him at a Catholic scout camp in Lyon years earlier, is still working with children. When his subsequent appeals to the Archbishop (Francois Marthuret) get him nowhere, he sets out to find other victims of the priest. And he doesn’t have long to wait. More remarkably, many of those who respond are willing to put their names to sworn testimonies.

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