Abbé Pierre - A Century of Devotion

Abbé Pierre - A Century of Devotion
Original title:L'Abbé Pierre - une vie de combats
Director:Frédéric Tellier
Running time:138 minutes
Release date:Not communicated
Born into a wealthy family, Henri Grouès was a Resistance fighter, member of parliament, defender of the homeless, revolutionary and iconoclast. From the benches of the French National Assembly to the slums of the Paris suburbs, his commitment to the underprivileged earned him international renown. The creation of Emmaüs and the tidal wave of his unforgettable appeal in the winter of '54 made him an icon. Yet, every day, he doubted his action. His frailties, his sufferings, his barely credible intimate life remained unknown to the general public. Revolted by misery and injustice, often criticized, sometimes betrayed, Henri Grouès had a thousand lives and fought a thousand battles. He left his mark on history under the name he chose for himself: Abbé Pierre.

Mulder's Review

In the annals of history, certain individuals stand out as beacons of hope, devoting their lives to defending the cause of the less fortunate and marginalized. One such emblematic figure is Abbé Pierre, a French priest whose work resonates as a testament to unwavering commitment and boundless compassion. Frédéric Tellier, a seasoned filmmaker known for his meticulous storytelling, has undertaken the formidable task of bringing Abbé Pierre's extraordinary life to the screen in the epic biopic Abbé Pierre - une vie de combats.

This true cinematic masterpiece takes audiences on a captivating journey through the tumultuous 20th century, chronicling the life and legacy of Abbé Pierre, whose name has become synonymous with the fight against poverty and homelessness. The backdrop is a world ravaged by war, clashing ideologies and a humanity grappling with its own morality.

The story unfolds in a captivating way, using a long flashback structure that transports viewers to a monastery in 1937. Here we meet the frail, ailing Henri Groues, played with remarkable depth by Benjamin Lavernhe. Groues' collapse in the monastery triggers a series of events that ultimately lead to his transformation into Abbé Pierre. His physical weakness is seen as an invitation to serve elsewhere, and as World War II engulfs the world, Groues finds himself drawn into the French resistance, confronted with the loss of loved ones and the brutality of war.

The first half of the film shines in its ability to meet the challenges of war. Cinematographer Renaud Chassaing paints hauntingly beautiful yet harrowing scenes of nocturnal subterfuge and the unforgiving cold of mountainous terrain. Archival footage seamlessly integrates Abbé Pierre's experiences into the broader fabric of world events, from the liberation of Paris to the explosion of the atomic bomb.

As the war gives way to the post-war era, Abbé Pierre's commitment to the poor and homeless takes center stage. The film poignantly depicts his impassioned pleas to the bourgeoisie to share their wealth to alleviate the suffering of others. His founding of the Emmaüs movement led to the establishment of a network of shelters and emergency housing, offering a lifeline to those who had nothing. Archival footage paints a bleak picture of Paris in 1954, when the homeless took their toll on the city's frigid streets.

The second part of the film focuses on the growing fame of Abbé Pierre, whose impassioned speeches stirred up the crowds. Valérie Deseine's precise editing captures the whirlwind of emotions and inspiration. Split-screen techniques underscore Abbé Pierre's growing celebrity, while the film offers glimpses of the power of his message.

Frédéric Tellier skilfully maintains the emphasis on Abbé Pierre's guiding principles throughout the film: caring for others, fighting prejudice and sharing with those in need. The film ends with images of France today, where homelessness remains a pressing problem, a poignant reminder that Abbé Pierre's work lives on through the Abbé Pierre Foundation.

At certain moments in the film, director Frédéric Tellier manages to capture raw emotion, from the solemn funeral of a frozen baby to the impassioned speeches that evoke Abbé Pierre's potential to change the world. Much of this success is attributed to Benjamin Lavernhe's central performance. This formidable actor invests Abbé Pierre with sincerity, ardent conviction and humble doubts, portraying him as a complex, flawed but profoundly admirable human being.

Abbé Pierre - A Century of Devotion is a far-reaching story that seamlessly blends historical events with the personal journey of a man who has dedicated his life to making the world a better place. While the film sometimes skims over the highlights of Abbé Pierre's life, it ultimately succeeds in highlighting his enduring message of empathy, social responsibility and the profound impact a single individual can have on the world. It's impossible to remain unmoved by this compelling film, which is both accurate and perfectly acted.

The film's premiere at the Cannes Film Festival last May was a testament to Abbé Pierre's lasting influence, and a reminder that each and every one of us has the potential to create positive change in the lives of others. Abbé Pierre's legacy continues to inspire, inciting us to compassion, empathy and commitment in the fight against injustice - a timely message for a world in need of hope and humanity. What we have here is a landmark film that should prove a great success at the cinema and establish Benjamin Lavernhe as a gifted actor.

Abbé Pierre - A Century of Devotion
Directed by Frédéric Tellier
Written by Olivier Gorce, Frédéric Tellier
Produced by Wassim Béji
Starring Benjamin Lavernhe, Emmanuelle Bercot, Michel Vuillermoz
Music : Bryce Dessner
Cinematography : Renaud Chassaing
Edited by Valérie Deseine
Production companies: WY Productions, SND, France 3 Cinéma
Distributed by SND (France)
Release dates : 26 May 2023 (Cannes), 8 November 2023 (France)
Running time : 138 minutes

Seen on September 16, 2023 at Gaumont Disney Village, Room 15 seat A20

Mulder's Mark: