This review is for a film originally viewed at the 20th Annual Tallgrass Film Festival. WD;ED will update when the film becomes available either in theatres or on VOD.
Many live with traumatic figures from our past returning to haunt our present, reaching out to reapply the devastation once wrought upon us. There are varying degrees to which this trauma can rear its ugly head, but when the chips are laid down the question arises – how far will it push you?
Marie (Babetida Sadjo) is head chef at an upscale assisted living home in France. An African refugee, she’s perfectly content to merely work and go ignored. Her nurse co-worker, Nadia (Jennifer Tchiakpe), is her one true piece of a social life that’s waiting to happen around her. There’s Leila (Hiba el Aflahi) and Jeremie (Valentin Fruitier), her sous chefs that spend most of their days laughing. There’s Jeanne (Martine Amisse), her mentor and beloved friend that lives in the care home. There’s Arnaud (Franck Saurel), the hot bartender at the group’s favorite hangout that makes absolutely no bones about his attraction to Marie. These people flit through her days like butterflies that never quite seem to land. But one day a death’s-head moth makes an impact – Father Patrick (Souleymane Sy Savane), the new Catholic priest that visits the care home. Marie knows he isn’t truly Father Patrick, but rather a terrifying figure from her past that has worked their way into her everyday life. When Jeanne gives Marie the family cabin, a beautiful but very remote location, Father Patrick finds himself bound and imprisoned by the angry young woman, hungry for vengeance and blood, and becomes determined to escape.
Babetida Sadjo is an absolute star. Gorgeous, confident, and raw as an exposed nerve, she slips into her role with no hesitation. She’s a great contrast to Souleymane Sy Savane, who puts on the airs of a confident individual of appetite that is used to pushing for more and getting his way. As a priest, he does so quietly, constantly looking for extra food among the residents or alone with Marie in the kitchen at night. In his other persona, the religious African warlord Sogo, he’s menacing and vindictive in a way that suggests his relinquished past isn’t as far gone as he’d like to pretend.
Director Ellie Foumbi is pulling no punches with this one, her first feature debut and one that seems to have been simmering under the surface for some time. The actress took over the chair to create a beautifully shot film that feels in a rhythym with the outdoor shots of an Olivier Assayas film, the landscape around the cabin beautifully captured while what lies within feels dark and full of terrors. Philippe Lacomblez has done a beautiful job as a production designer, creating atmospheres that feel natural and lived in when they could have been left colder. This is a cabin-in-the-woods story, but the horrors aren’t coming at us from anywhere but our characters.
Marie is our protagonist, but she’s complicated in multiple ways. Her lack of desire for a social life comes from her trauma, but this has extended into everything from her workplace relationships to her sex life, and as she tortures Sogo she begins to explore these things she’s found lacking with slowly-growing confidence. Her journey remains complicated and potentially unsatisfying for some, but I found the ultimate conclusion not only moving but elevating.
Our Father, the Devil is a gruesome little film but one that I fell instantly in love with. Sweet, cruel, beautiful, and ugly as sin, it’s one that is going to feel complicated for most audiences. Many, however, are going to feel the cathartic release and connect with the idea that forgiveness is power. Some might not agree with the conclusion, but that’s why these types of stories are necessary. Everyone processes trauma in different ways, and we need to talk about them candidly.