“Our Father, the Devil” (“Mon père, le diable”)
Rotten Tomatoes (4/5), Metacritic (8/10), Letterboxd (4/5), Imdb.com (8/10), TMDB.com (4/5)
They say it’s never too late to do the right thing. But how far does that extend? Does it include, for example, atoning for the heinous crimes of a ruthless warlord responsible for the brutal murders of entire villages? Or must such a monster be forced to pay heavily for his crimes? And, in the midst of a debate like this, what would Jesus say? Those are the heady questions raised in this gripping drama about an African woman (Babetida Sadjo) who escapes the vicious atrocities of a cold-blooded strongman after he kills her family and starts her life over as a chef at a nursing home in France. But, when a new priest (Souleymane Sy Savane) unexpectedly shows up at the senior facility, she’s thrown back into the terror of her past when she recognizes the cleric as the man who took her life away from her. What is she to do? How is she to cope? And how will she handle the situation? That’s the story that plays out in writer-director Ellie Foumbi’s brilliant debut feature, a gripping tale that will keep audiences on the edge of their seats. The picture’s mutilayered narrative keeps viewers (and characters) guessing, almost as if both are being toyed with by the filmmaker, but this is carried out so skillfully that one can’t help but remain riveted. The story is effectively fleshed out by the film’s superb ensemble cast (especially the two leads), backed by inventive cinematography, exceedingly clever film editing, a fine background score, an array of subtle touches and a surprising amount of strategically placed, well-executed comic relief. Admittedly there are some modest pacing issues in the middle, but they’re usually employed to set up one of the picture’s many smartly developed plot twists. This 2022-23 Independent Spirit Award nominee for best feature, as well as the recipient of many film festival award wins and nominations, is a well-kept cinematic secret that genuinely deserves wider attention, both as a thoughtful meditation and as an engaging drama. It’s playing in limited release, but it’s well worth the effort to search it out.