Movie Review : Our Father, the Devil

Some of the most moving moments in the movie may occur in what appears to be a simple moment of discovery. Though sometimes on a smaller scale than the great spectacle of many films, such moments may be more explosive than anything else because of how they take the minute elements of life and gradually mould them into something totally shattering.

Discovery occurs when a sermon is overheard at a retirement home in the tranquilly of small-town France in writer-director Ellie Foumbi’s feature debut thriller Our Father, the Devil, previously the winner of the Audience Award Winner for Best Narrative at the Tribeca Film Festival and nominee for Best Picture at the 2023 Spirit Awards.


Head Chef Marie, a Guinean refugee whose life is about to alter forever, is the one doing the discovery. Babetida Sadjo plays the world crumbling to perfection, and we see it in her eyes. The film immerses us in the ruins of Marie’s past and, gradually, her present, thanks to her titanically brilliant performance and the definitive vision of Foumbi.

While the film is rich in exacting details, from its devastating centre performance to the delicate manner in which it is all filmed, any writing about it must be withheld in order to preserve the experience. What Marie discovers is a guy named Father Patrick (Souleymane Sy Savané) who has come to provide religious advice at the elderly home. The first sermon he delivers appears to weave a spell on the residents and her coworkers alike, exacerbating her terrified look at hearing his remarks.

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When she passes out, we know that something is horribly wrong, even if no one else around her recognises it. As Father Patrick appears to constantly insert himself into her work, Marie recoils from him as if she were burnt, the agony engraved on her face quickly gives place to iron resolve. The film takes no time in plunging into something closer to horror while keeping its head above water as Marie’s changing emotional condition stares us down as the truth begins to emerge.

Sadjo’s captivating performance then moulds the whole panorama of Marie’s existence as we cycle through her job, home, and social life. It’s as though she and Foumbi are in total harmony with each other. In the lengthy series of outstanding actor-director collaborations, this is up there with the finest of them. Everything Marie does, from preparing a meal to starting a connection with a new partner, seems overflowing with heart, even in the simplest gestures.

Screenshot 121The way Foumbi moves between two sequences in one critical moment obscures the violence she inflicts as an act of vengeance while simultaneously making it more cutting. Sadjo never skips a single step throughout it all. A simple glance at someone giving information or the way she smokes a cigarette might set off a chain reaction of anxiety.

This might be sensual tension with her boyfriend, a charming man she seems to want to be with but can’t open up to, or existential tension in every other facet of her existence. Sadjo is soul-shatteringly transcendent in portraying the particularities of every person Marie is as she puts on a number of masks depending on the occasion and how honest she can be about all she carries with her.

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Even when it’s just her and Father Patrick, two individuals intimately linked, it feels like whole planets are enclosed in one room. The way one moment plays out almost fully unbroken by cuts as Marie explains what occurred at his hands is both stunning and horrific. The way this is all articulated is brutal and frank, at times feeling like important monologues from last year’s Saint Omer, which would form a terrific double bill with this to highlight two of the greatest first narrative films of the decade.

What distinguishes them is how this is wrapped up in more obviously thriller aspects that, although frequently less engaging as we are given quick reminders about the trajectory of an investigation, make the emotional cutting of the remainder of the picture go that much deeper. It is less concerned with what will happen and more concerned with what has occurred, resulting in a narrative that focuses on a previous trauma that can never be undone in a far more measured manner than most other modern stories achieve.

Screenshot 122Every picture and discussion gives us a glimmer of optimism that Marie may be able to find a way to heal, just as there is something holding her back at home that may also strangle her life out of whatever future she has. To explore this as confidently as Sadjo and Foumbi do makes it a true gift of an experience, even if we are carried to unshakably bleak depths that the film excavates until there is nothing left.

The juxtaposition of exuberant delights and the crashing down of an almost inevitable breakdown refuses any easy solutions while yet leaving bare all of its wounds. This is most noticeable when Marie admits that she is “not built for this,” leaving purposely unstated what she means when queried in a way that exposes more than if she had come out and said it all.

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As we hurtle towards an ending in which salvation can only be clawed back together from the thousands of pieces it has been shattered into, the reflection it holds up to its characters washes us away along with them in a culmination of emotional devastation so comprehensive that all that remains is to simply take it all in.