A woman holds her baby in her arms, facing the sea in the middle of the night. This image, the very first of Saint-Omerhaunts the mind of Rama (Kayije Kagame), a recently pregnant university professor, who is about to write a novel by drawing a parallel with Medea, a character from Greek mythology whose Pier Paolo Pasolini, among others, s is inspired for one of his feature films.
Disturbed and fascinated by a case of infanticide that took place in Berck-sur-Mer, in Pas-de-Calais, the author decides to go to Saint-Omer to attend the trial of Laurence (Guslagie Malanda), the accused, brilliant young woman who attributes her inexplicable gesture to witchcraft. The testimony of the latter, both clear and chilling, will stir many things in Rama. Her ambiguous relationship with motherhood, both as a future mother and as the daughter of a woman with whom relationships have never been easy, will obviously be disrupted.
Having already made her mark in the field of documentaries, Alice Diop (We) is now embarking on fiction by putting its expertise to good use. Inspired by a real story of infanticide that made headlines in France a few years ago, the French filmmaker offers a very strong drama, which confronts the viewer with his certainties, especially since his staging is entirely designed to put the point forward. And the trouble it causes.
traits of society
The story of Saint-Omer essentially consists of a trial, which the filmmaker often films in static shots and sequence shots. This approach may seem austere, even radical, but it proves to be extremely effective here, the viewer having no choice but to pay attention to what he sees and, above all, to what he hears. . In a subtle way, Alice Diop also points her camera at a few key characters in the story, more particularly the president (Valérie Dréville) and the lawyer (Aurélia Petit), without forgetting the reactions of the audience, often expressed internally.
Having become interested in a trial that she herself followed face-to-face after seeing a photo of the accused in The world, Alice Diop delicately approaches certain traits of society. It evokes in particular the a priori collectively maintained towards citizens from elsewhere and the “ordinary” racism that results from it.
At trial, we also wonder how the accused, a Franco-Senegalese, could have, during her studies, taken an interest in the Austro-Hungarian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein when she should logically have chosen a thinker “closer of his culture”. Saint-Omer is also nourished by the view that Rama, an Afro-descendant French intellectual, has of Laurence, a woman whose journey could be similar to hers.
In this regard, it is worth highlighting the outstanding performances of the two main actresses. Guslagie Malanda, in the difficult role of the accused, manages to modulate all the facets of a complex personality without any dramatic effect. In counterpoint, Kayije Kagame magnificently expresses the torment of a woman whose approach we will also follow outside the Assize Court. Nor can we ignore the very vibrant presence of women lawyers. The lawyer’s plea, during which she tries to understand without excusing, is a great moment.
Thanks to a naturalistic approach, very bare, a staging devoid of any artifice, Alice Diop exposes a practically inextricable scenario. She thus forces the spectator to question received ideas, without in any way directing her judgment.
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival last year, Saint-Omer is an extraordinarily powerful film.
With Kayije Kagame, Guslagie Malanda, Valérie Dréville
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Saint-Omer | Extraordinarily powerful
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