Credit_ Glasgow Film Festival

Glasgow Film Festival 2023: Our Father, The Devil

By Mridula Sharma

An almost promising debut, and almost successful departure from migrant narratives.

Ellie Foumbi’s Our Father, The Devil (2021) has a straightforward premise. Marie, a refugee from Guinea, works as a chef in a retirement home located in a French town. When Father Patrick is appointed as the new Catholic priest at her workplace, she is quick to recognise him as the leader of a militia that killed her family. This compels her to overcome her self-imposed amnesia and confront her traumatic past.

The narrative is guided by thorough research into the life experiences and encounters of refugees. The portrayal of Marie is, for instance, an acknowledgement of the material horrors of her past that still influence the present she inhabits. Commentary on state apathy for missing black refugees is cleverly inserted, and outlines the conditions of precarity that inform migrant lives. In this regard, the film is successful in offering a nuanced account of introspection that develops in response to the resurgence of an unmistakably unfortunate history of trauma.

Despite its admittedly arresting cinematography, which falters only occasionally, there are evident gaps in the storyline that limit the film’s potential. Though Marie and Father Patrick are both morally problematic, it is the former who is granted a higher moral ground and engages the viewers’ sympathy. The total neglect of social or political motivations driving Father Patrick’s behaviour is striking. He is bad and she is better; he is the architect of cycles of violence and she is the victim of his actions. A more complex inquiry into their respective characterisation is not permitted.

Further, the economy of desire in which Marie and Arnaud circulate makes its objective too obvious, and its outcome less impactful. Sexual intercourse with Arnaud is supposed to be an opportunity for Marie to overcome her past subjection to sexual violence, but it is unrealistic to place upon one sexual encounter the baggage of serious trauma. Contrary to what the film expects us to believe, sex lacks the magical properties that can trigger Marie’s pursuit of healing and transformation.

Our Father, The Devil is the type of film we watch because it at least attempts to avoid reproducing the predictable monotony of mainstream cinema. This desperation is detectable in its many critical reviews, which either praise the woman-centric plot, or overemphasise its survey of the nature of morality. While the film does mark a worthwhile departure from commercial narratives on refugees (suffering becomes a trend and a cheap show of sympathy generates monetary profit), an exhausting plot-line – Marie versus The Rest of the World – undermines its radical credentials.


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