Our Father, The Devil (Mon Père, Le Diable) – Review

Our Father The Devil There has been many a cinematic protagonist whose past filters into their present. Sometimes, it’s an unexpected visit from a previous lover. Other times, it’s an insidious reminder of what life was once like. And so, who are we when our two selves collide? Should the past be able to remain exactly that?

These are just some of the questions that writer-director Ellie Foumbi ponders in her feature-length debut, Our Father, The Devil (Mon Père, Le Diable). It’s an interesting take on being able to confront the horrors of your past. But one, unfortunately, that doesn’t quite live up to expectations.

At the heart of the film is Marie (Babetida Sadjo), who works as the head chef for a care home. She takes her job very seriously. She is someone who cares about every last grain of salt; every potential for taste. She has one close friend, but is otherwise solitary, drinking alone in bars and refusing to conform to social expectations. The arrival of a charismatic priest to the care home – his rich voice keeping the residents in doe-eyed rapture – unleashes fear and panic in Marie. Her past has finally tracked her down.

Initially, we only get glimpses of what may or may not be troubling Marie. A scar on her shoulder as she gets ready for bed; visible rigidity whenever a man talks to her; her cautious avoidance of questions about her personal life. She is often shot in lingering close-up; it feels very intimate. We feel everything she does – from disgust to terror to the very faintest hint of a smile. Babetida Sadjo delivers a brilliant performance. The camera cannot take its gaze away and you won’t be able to either. She is powerful, yet vulnerable. Her panic attack feels extremely real.

When we first meet Father Patrick (Souleymane Sy Savane), we only hear him. Like Marie, we are struggling to put a face to the voice. But once he gets on screen, he absolutely dominates the frame. Shoulders arched, with slow, steady steps, he completely fills the space. The initial scenes between the two leads are rippling with tension. Few words are exchanged. Instead, what we have feels like two prize fighters circling each other in a cage. In just a few short scenes, past has become present.

Our Father The Devil Marie kidnaps and tortures the priest (who gives himself away by tapping his spoon against a bowl of stew a certain way, a gesture she instantly recognises). She inflicts a very specific set of wounds on him, ones that she was made to experience as a child. A powerful redressing of power occurs. Father Patrick wets himself and frantically pleads for his life whilst Marie takes her time, slowly carving a block of cheese with a rather gnarled-looking knife.

And if Foumbi had been able to keep this level of tension, this feeling of a cat and mouse chase, Our Father, The Devil would have been a spectacular piece of cinema. Bizarrely, she opts to have the confrontation extremely early into the film, leaving you with absolutely nothing left to want for about an hour of run time. Although Marie goes into detail about the civil war brutality she suffered under him (whilst he was Sogo “The Oracle”), it has lost all impact by the time of the reveal. It’s a structural issue that really impacts the entire film.

Instead of exploring “what price revenge?”, and offering insight into Marie’s humanity and whether or not exorcising her demons has given her closure, Foumbi instead opts for a sex scene complete with cheesy saxophone accompaniment. It’s like tonal whiplash, further unpicking the veritable sense of tension and fear that the initial 40 minutes sought to establish. The script plunges further into cliché with lines such as, “I’m no good, don’t you get that?”

This is a film that definitely struggles to find its rhythm, which is so disappointing as it opens so strongly. By the time we cross the hour mark, it feels like it has nothing left to give you as a viewer. Perhaps this stems from the fact that this started life as a short film that has been fleshed out into a feature.

What starts as a promising debut from Ellie Foumbi is ultimately let down by its own eagerness to cut to the chase. What should be a thrilling cat-and-mouse chase is too abrupt to benefit from the typical energy of the genre.

Our Father, The Devil (Mon Père, Le Diable) is screening at the Glasgow Film Festival. Get your tickets here.

Mary Munoz
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