Frontal and rigorous. There are no other words to describe Alice Diop’s approach in Saint-Omerpresented this Wednesday afternoon in Competition at the 79th Venice Film Festival.
Recognized French documentary filmmaker, Alice Diop proposed in particular, in We, presented in Berlin in 2021, the portrait of a plural France by following line B of the RER, which runs through the Parisian suburbs. In her first fiction feature, the Senegalese-born filmmaker continues her exploration of what it means to live in France when you don’t have the same skin color. And this by focusing on a tragic incident.
Novelist of African origin, Rama (Kayije Kagame) lives with her companion, a white musician who adores his in-laws. But the young woman, pregnant, is troubled at the moment. She leaves for Saint-Omer, in the north of France, where, for her next book, she will follow the trial of Laurence Coly (Guslagie Malanga). A Senegalese student in France for several years, she is accused of having murdered her 15-month-old granddaughter, Lilli, by leaving her alone one night on a beach in Berk. The child was found drowned. Laurence, who lived in a relationship with an older man, the child’s father, was visibly suffering from severe depression. And can only explain his gesture by witchcraft, maraboutage…
Her film, Alice Diop opens with a lecture given by Rama at the university. She makes answer a very beautiful text by Marguerite Duras taken fromHiroshima my love, in which she puts herself in the shoes of a woman shaved at the Liberation, and the images of these women publicly humiliated in the villages of France at the end of the war. Through the grace of literature and art, the hated figure gains, explains the novelist, the status, if not of heroine, at least of “subject in a state of grace”. This is exactly what the filmmaker proposes with this film, to try to understand the unimaginable gesture of a mother towards her child.
Co-written with Marie NDiaye
Co-written with the writer Marie NDiaye (Goncourt 2009 for Three powerful women), Saint-Omer is very directly inspired by the Fabienne Kabou affair, which the novelist had already tackled in her last novel revenge is mine. In June 2016, this young woman was sentenced at first instance to 20 years in prison for the murder of her granddaughter. Alice Diop retraces here very rigorously the trial of this infanticidal mother. We thus follow the debates, the questioning of the accused, imperturbable and speaking in very strong French, the interventions of her lawyer, the president or the general counsel… But it is difficult to unravel the mystery of this intelligent and cultured woman, devoured by loneliness and having sunk into the spiral of madness.
These debates, Diop stages them in a very austere way, through long monologues often filmed facing the camera, just interspersed with shots of the audience in the courtroom, and in particular of Rama’s totally impassive face… is there that Saint-Omer gets exciting. Not so much for the story of this contemporary Medea in itself as for the echo that this tragedy evokes in a black novelist, living in Europe and who shares, in spite of herself, part of the feelings of this very worthy woman seated in the defendant’s box. What to question his own relationship to his mother and his unborn child …
Saint-Omer Drama Of Alice Diop Script Alice Diop and Marie NDiaye Photography Claire Mathon Assembly Faruk Yusuf Akayran and Amrita David With Kayije Kagame, Guslagie Malanga, Aurelia Petit… Duration 2:02
We want to give thanks to the author of this short article for this incredible material
“Saint Omer”: the woman behind the infanticide
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