“Our Father, the Devil” centers on Marie (Babetida Sadjo), a Guinean refugee in southern France who possesses the kind of thick armor forged by intense hurt. When a figure from Marie’s past life arrives in the guise of a priest at the upscale retirement home where she works as the head chef, something in her cracks.
In the assured hands of the writer-director Ellie Foumbi, Marie’s unraveling yields not only an absorbing psychological thriller, but a profound meditation on the ethics of immigration.
Marie’s story begins on a high note. Her culinary mentor, Jeanne (Martine Amisse), has written Marie into her will, giving Marie an idyllic mountainside cottage. Yet Foumbi’s stark, formalist tableau captures even the glittering French countryside as a space trembling with contained anxiety.
Inexplicably, at least at first, Marie fends off the advances of a handsome bartender to whom she is evidently attracted. Sadjo, in a commanding performance, shifts easily from pure venom to bashful uncertainty — as if Marie were constantly playing mental tug of war with herself and her past.
Then, Father Patrick appears (Souléymane Sy Savané) — though Marie knows him better as “Sogo,” a warlord responsible for the death of her family in Guinea. Marie reacts instinctively and imprisons Patrick in her cottage outpost, and then unleashes an inner brutality.
The first part of the film relies on the ambiguity of whether or not Marie is mistaken about Patrick’s identity, but the answer isn’t simple. Instead, Foumbi’s script provokes questions about our capacity for change and the absolution of past sins — all anchored to the charged political question of an immigrant’s worth. Painfully, and at the risk of losing her new life, Marie discovers that there is no such thing as devils — or angels, for that matter.
Our Father, the Devil
Not rated. In French, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 47 minutes. In theaters.