November 19, 2023
by Carla Hay
Directed by Ellie Foumbi
French with subtitles
Culture Representation: Taking place in Lucho, France, the dramatic film “Our Father, the Devil” features a cast of white and black characters representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: A nursing home chef is disturbed when a Catholic priest is a visitor at her job, and she is convinced that he is the same person who caused trauma to her in her childhood.
Culture Audience: “Our Father, the Devil” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in suspenseful dramas about people with dark secrets.
“Our Father, the Devil” is a well-acted psychological drama that offers a fascinating portait of a woman’s complicated feelings about revenge, religion and redemption. The movie also explores issues regarding PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and long-term effects of childhood trauma. “Our Father, the Devil” is a slow-burn story that effectively shows how pent-up emotions can erupt in ways that lead to problematic consequences.
Writer/director Ellie Foumbi makes an assured feature-film directorial debut with “Our Father, the Devil,” which had its world premiere at the 2022 Venice International Film Festival. The movie then made the rounds at several festivals in 2022 and 2023, including the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature. In addition, “Our Father, the Devil” was nominated for Best Feature at the 2023 Film Independent Spirit Awards.
“Our Father, the Devil” takes place in Lucho, France, where protagonist Marie Cissé (played by Babetida Sadjo) is an African immigrant working as the head chef of nursing home. Marie, who is a bachelorette with no children, is very good at her job. Marie keeps mostly to herself and lives alone in a small apartment. Marie’s closest friend is a co-worker named Nadia Benoit (played by Jennifer Tchiakpe), who works as an orderly at the nursing home.
Nadia confides in Marie about her fertility issues. Nadia and her husband want to start a family, but Nadia hasn’t gotten pregnant. Nadia worried about her chances of getting pregnant after her husband will move out of the home for a long-distance job. Marie is a compassionate friend who comforts Nadia when Nadia gets emotional about these worries.
Marie’s boss is nursing home manager Sabine Leplanche (played by Maëlle Genet), who is demanding and shows hints of being xenophobic. In an early scene in the movie, Sabine goes in the nursing home’s kitchen to taste some of the food before it gets served to the residents. Sabine scolds the sous chef for making soup that is too spicy for Sabine’s taste. Sabine tells the sous chef in a condescending tone: “We’re not in Algeria,” Sabine comments. “The sous chef replies defiantly, “Good thing I’m French.”
One of the nursing home residents named Jeanne Guyot (played by Martine Amisse) has taken a liking to Marie, who has a good rapport with Jeanne. When Jeanne’s adult son Thomas Guyot (played by Maxence David) makes a rare visit to Jeanne at the nursing home, it’s obvious that mother and son have a tension-filled relationship. Later in the movie, Jeanne makes a confession explaining why she thinks she sees a lot of herself in Marie.
One day, Jeanne tells Marie that Nadia recently changed her will to cut Thomas out of any inheritance. Jeanne then surprises Marie by giving her the keys to Jeanne’s guest home, which is in remote wooded area. To Marie’s shock, Jeanne tells Marie that Jeanne has signed over the deed to the house to Marie. Jeanne insists that Marie accept this unexpected gift.
Marie seems comfortable around women, but she shows obvious discomfort and sometimes hostility in the company of men whom she thinks are giving her unwanted attention. An early scene in the movie shows Marie at a cafe, where a server named Arnaud Charpentier (played Franck Saurel) tries to flirt with her, but she’s standoffish and rebuffs his attempts to engage in a friendly conversation with her. Based on this brief and uncomfortable talk, Marie is a regular customer, and Arnaud has been noticing her for a while, because he knows what she likes to order.
Another scene shows just how “on edge” Marie is. She’s walking down a street by herself at night, when she notices a man walking behind her. She thinks this stranger is following her. And when he walks close enough to her, she pulls a knife on him. When Marie sees that the stranger means no harm, she quickly makes an apology. What would cause Marie to be so paranoid and combative?
The answer comes a little later in the movie, when a Catholic priest named Father Patrick (played by Souleymane Sy Savane) visits the nursing home to give a sermon. Marie looks like she’s seen a ghost when she first sees Father Patrick, who says he’s from Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Marie goes to a computer and finds an article with the headline “Young Warlord ‘The Oracle’ Found Dead in a Bush.”
The sight of Father Patrick has unnerved Marie so much, she asks Sabine for a few days off, but Sabine declines the request because the nursing home is currently understaffed. In the nursing home’s cafeteria-styled dining area, Marie has to serve Father Patrick. Marie is visibly uncomfortable in his presence. Later, after the nursing home’s kitchen is closed, he goes to the kitchen to ask Marie if he can have more of the stew that he was served earlier. This conversation changes the course of the story.
Without giving away too many details, it’s enough to say that Marie is certain that Father Patrick is actually someone she used to know from her past. She thinks Father Patrick is someone who caused a lot of pain and trauma in her life. Father Patrick vehemently denies Marie’s accusations and insists that she has him mistaken for someone else.
There’s more to the story than this identity mystery. The truth is eventually revealed in a gut-wrenching emotional scene. Although all of the principal cast members give skilled performances, the movie’s emotional heart is in Sadjo’s riveting performance. For her role in “My Father, the Devil,” Sadjo was nominated for a 2023 Gotham Award for Outstanding Lead Performance. Foumbi’s absorbing writing and directing make viewers feel that they are right in the middle of the emotional journey that Marie goes on in the movie.
“Our Father, the Devil” raises provocative questions about how much people should be defined by past actions, how much people might be able to change, and how much trust can be put into people who might not be showing their true selves to others. Although some extreme things happen in the movie, “Our Father, the Devil” maintains a realism about it all that looks credible. This memorable film shows in intriguing ways how people judge themselves when they are judging others.
Cineverse and Fandor released “Our Father, the Devil” in New York City on August 25, 2023, and in Los Angeles on September 1, 2023. The movie was released on digital and VOD on October 10, 2023.