“Saint Omer” by Alice Diop: the judgment of Medea – Benzine Magazine

Singular film taken from the real trial of an infanticide, Saint-Omer is a very great moment in cinema, and makes us go through intense emotions. After the triumph of Venice, can we dream of an Oscar?

Kayije Kagame – Copyright SRAB FILMS ARTE FRANCE CINEMA 2022

In 2013, Fabienne Kabou abandoned her little girl to the rising sea on the beach at Berck. In 2016, the documentary filmmaker Alice Diop attends the trial of the young mother at Saint-Omer (“saint to the mothers”?, “saint ô mer”?). In 2022, the film adaptation she made from this atrocious incident won two prizes in Venice, and was chosen to represent France at the Oscars. In the rooms, the public does not rush: is it the harshness of the subject, infanticide? is it the austerity of the director’s approach (we concentrate on the spoken word, we give the characters time to exist, we ignore the music for almost the entire film…)? is it, how dare you say it, the fact that the two protagonists are women of African origin, BLACK women?

Saint Omer posterHowever, it is enough to spend two hours locked in a room – very empty, therefore – facing Saint-Omerthe film, to feel overwhelmed by the force of the speech of Diop, by the intensity of the emotions it arouses. To understand, to feel that we are dealing here with CINEMA, real cinema.

Far from any sentimentality, far from any moral or emotional solicitation, Diop speaks to us in two tight, tense hours, of the difficulty of being a mother, which is of course, all psychoanalysts will tell you, that of being a daughter. But it also tells us so many other things: the contempt of men who speak of love to justify their indifference (with this gripping interrogation of Luc Dumontet, a moment of pure vertigo), hypocrisy and, therefore, the refusal to humanity, which is the assimilation of a person to his culture (the fantasy of African witchcraft), and then, of course, the madness which is that of Medea, tragic heroine killing her children. To suspend his film without moralizing conclusion or false satisfaction of the intellectual “understanding” of the incomprehensible, on the moving words of a lawyer recalling the exchange of cells taking place in the pregnant woman between the fetus and the mother…

If there is a weakness in Saint-Omeris to have wanted to double the story of the accused with a story that somehow mirrors her, that of a young writer, also of African origin, attending the trial when she is herself -even pregnant and wonders about her own desire for motherhood: this is obviously relevant, and serves to show that these doubts are not monstrous, but common to many women, but it still amounts to underlining with a marker the message of a film that doesn’t need it.

Conversely, one of the great strengths of the film is the beauty of the spoken language, conveyed by two dazzlingly accurate performers (Kayije Kagame and especially Guslage Malanda): the fact of putting in the mouth of two black women, immigrants and educated, even intellectual, the most beautiful French language, it is a real political gesture.

If there is unfortunately little chance that the Academy of the Oscars will appreciate such a film, it honors French cinema in all respects, so much criticized nowadays by critics who only dream of seeing it adopt the stultifying codes of US commercial fiction.

Congratulations, and especially a big thank you to Alice Diop !

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French film by Alice Diop
With: Kayije Kagame, Guslagie Malanda, Valérie Dréville
Genre: drama
Duration: 2 h 02
Theatrical release date: November 23, 2022

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“Saint Omer” by Alice Diop: the judgment of Medea – Benzine Magazine

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