Our Father, the Devil sees first-time feature director Ellie Foumbi tell a story about trauma with precision and care.
Director: Ellie Foumbi
Screenwriter: Ellie Foumbi
Starring: Babetida Sadjo, Souleymane Sy Savané, Jennifer Tchiakpe, Franck Saurel, Martine Amisse
Cinematographer: Tinx Chan
Composer: Gavin Brivik
Our Father, the Devil follows Marie Cissé (Babetida Sadjo), a caretaker and head chef at a retirement home in small-town France. Between her jobs, Marie spends time with her co-worker and best friend Nadia (Jennifer Tchiakpe). She also entertains the idea of a romance with bartender Arnaud (Franck Saurel). Yet, things don’t remain so simple for Marie much longer. The arrival of Father Patrick (Souléymane Sy Savané), an African priest whom she recognizes from her past, triggers the trauma she’s buried deep inside. Now, Marie must learn to work in harmony with Father Priest or deal with the daily terror in her own way.
In her potent and poignant feature directorial debut, Ellie Foumbi confidently balances a complex narrative with creative simplicity and emotional precision. She reexamines the concept of humanity through the film’s lead Marie by embracing a story about past trauma and how that may set a person on a new lifestyle. Framing an entire story around that without tapping into shock-value territory is difficult to do. Yet, Foumbi provides a masterclass in execution.
In one film, Foumbi manages to do what other filmmakers have failed to when it comes to storytelling centered around African or Black characters. In Our Father, the Devil, emotional distress is central to the story and the development of the lead characters. Yet, Foumbi never subjects viewers to imagery and scenes that one could classify as “trauma-porn.” Frankly, we never see any flashbacks to Marie’s experiences at all. Instead, Foumbi trusts her actors to tell the story through rich dialogue, shattering emotion, and intentional movement.
Ellie Foumbi confidently balances a complex narrative
Through her emotionally rich script, Ellie Foumbi molds a narrative in which the actions of characters are also highly dependent upon their past. Conceptually, it’s like carrying baggage into a new relationship or taking extra precaution on a first date. What we’ve experienced in the past will always affect our present and future. However, it doesn’t always have to be negative. What we choose to do with the residue of painful experiences helps shape us into the people we are today.
That’s a beautiful sentiment that slowly unravels throughout this feature. Paired with Chan’s beautiful cinematography to highlight Marie’s transient emotion, Our Father, the Devil is damn-near perfect. Brivik’s score builds upon both leads’ growing terror. Yet, the somber undertone creates an atmosphere that demands sympathy for both characters. Together, these elements created a breakthrough ambiance that is profound and inspiring despite a story about pain and vengeance.
Babetida Sadjo (Marie) delivers a performance unlike anything I’ve seen in a long time. Her approach to resilient vengeance is methodical and resolute. And Sadjo’s ability to exude a desire for healing under her character’s tenacious pursuit of retribution is simply perfect. Opposite of Sadjo’s Marie is Souleymane Sy Savané (Father Patrick). He gives a performance so staggering that it brings up conflicting emotions during the watching experience.
It’s hard to imagine how a first-time feature director could deliver such a masterclass in storytelling with resounding effortlessness, but Foumbi made it look easy. But what solidifies Our Father, the Devil as the film to beat at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival for me is that she crafts an African immigrant story with a framework outside of the character’s suffering. How often have we seen films about African/Black characters in which they are defined by their agony? The opposite holds true in Foumbi’s triumphant debut. Filmmakers, take notes!