The past few years have seen an abundance of films driven by trauma. Horror franchises, emotional dramas, and even popcorn flicks continue to cash in on the “T-word” as their primary focus. However, few protagonists find their past so debilitating they cannot live everyday lives or find success. In the case of Our Father, The Devil, few would ever mistake our protagonist’s life as “normal.” Featuring a star-making, layered emotional performance from Babetida Sadjo, Our Father, The Devil will rock you to your core. It will also make you reexamine the connections that make us the most human.

Marie (Sadjo) finds herself in an enviable position. The young, talented chef recently cooked a dish so good, one of her patients at a nursing home gifted her a cottage. She’s found stability in her kitchen, a difficult process for any immigrant. Additionally, she works alongside her best friend Nadia (Jennifer Tchiakpe), a nurse in the home. However, when Father Patrick (Souleymane Sy Savane), Marie’s life flips upside down. She believes Father Patrick is a young warlord responsible for the death of her family.

Our Father, The Devil 2021 2023 Palm Springs International Film Festival

Director Ellie Foumbi constructs a film tight with tension from the moment Marie sees Father Patrick. We hear Marie’s suspicions early, but Foumbi introduces ideas that make us question everything we’ve seen. Is Father Patrick the man responsible for Marie’s suffering? Her accusations seem tied to her memory, but can we trust memory in highly emotional situations? The setup to Our Father, The Devil sells on two separate truths, and the tension strengthens as we race toward either conclusion. Even better, how Foumbi confirms the truth is a masterclass in suspense. Her screenplay and direction sell a moment destined to be one of 2023’s best scenes.

Foumbi asks probing questions about our protagonist and the immigrant experience. While Foumbi showcases a brilliant eye for recomposition shots with a camera in motion, she perfectly balances tone. The editing allows for quick-hitting sequences of pain to pass over our eyes in seconds. She then accentuates their power by allowing us to stay with characters for longer takes, trusting her performers to land the moments. In a highly emotional story like Our Father, The Devil, she walks a tightrope that could have led to a feeling of melodrama. Instead, this is a true success.

Our Father, The Devil 2021 2023 Palm Springs International Film Festival

The three performances at the center of Our Father, the Devil work perfectly in conjunction with each other. Yet actress Babetida Sadjo delivers a masterclass in emotional vulnerability. Her character wraps herself in layer after layer of coping mechanisms, but as she descends into her memories, the hard work becomes instantly undone. We suspect that she struggles in her day to day. Every revealing and gut-wrenching piece of dialogue only confirms the horrors she carries in her mind.

Even if she’s wrong to accuse the Father, this woman has been to Hell and back. Yet Sadjo plays Marie with a grace rarely afforded to these women. She may delight in some of her actions, but everything comes from a place of pain, guilt, and anger. Sadjo displays each of these emotions, and fears, on her face. With each interaction with the Father, we see her efforts to maintain control slipping away.

Our Father, The Devil 2021 2023 Palm Springs International Film Festival

Savane delivers his own tour-de-force and would be recognized as such if not for Sadjo’s gravitational pull. Savane holds peace, forgiveness, guilt, love, and hope within his character at all times. There’s a charm that’s impossible to ignore, and as the story unfolds, that charm washes away. The slow erosion of the life he’s built would be difficult under normal circumstances, but Marie puts the Father through a torturous process. Savane’s ability to strip away layers of his character to reveal a raw, guilt-ridden man makes the revelations in Our Father, The Devil‘s second half, all the more powerful.

Foumbi’s handle on Our Father, The Devil forces us to acknowledge an important directorial voice has arrived. Foumbi not only tells one of the most devasting stories about trauma in recent memory but she layers in philosophical questions and legitimately passionate sexual beats to craft fully human characters. Even when humans are harmed and broken, we have the ability to move on with our lives. We can build a semblance of ourselves back. The process may be daunting, but humans are resilient.

Alan’s Rating: 9/10

What did you think of Our Father, The Devil? Let us know in the comments below! Our Father, The Devil will have two more showings at the Palm Springs International Film Festival. It will release theatrically in 2023.

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