Saint Omer is bold, provocative and unapologetic cinema and the latest film from Alice Diop.
Rama (Kayije Kagame) is a novelist and literary professor who attends the trial of Laurence Coly (incredible performance by Guslagie Malanda) in Saint Omer. Coly is accused of leaving her young infant daughter on the beach to be swept away by the tide.
Saint Omer is a much needed look at the representation of black women in society, as well as a meditation on what it means to be isolated from one’s family by both geographical distance and language. Alice Diop takes inspiration from the real case of Fabienne Kabou who left her child to drown on the beach, as well as the tragedy of Medea to tell a haunting and hypnotic story. It is both complex and compelling.
In Saint Omer, Alice Diop takes the cliches of how black people are viewed and obliterates them. There is a scene in which the Rama is asked if it is true that Laurence speaks good French. She replies, well of course she does as she is educated. Race is often used as a way of subjugation and what Diop does is show us the complexities and nuances that black women face in every day situations. Laurence wants to study an Austrian philosopher, yet her professor asks what she as an African woman could possibly have in common with their ideas. This type of remark and conversation would never have taken place if she were white. Also, the various guises of motherhood are considered in this film; the absent mother, the murderous mother, the unsure if she wants to have a child mother.
The court scenes are sublime, as Diop uses the less is more approach in her script. There are moments of silence yet the tension is maintained throughout. This allows the audience a different look at a very challenging subject matter without giving any answers. In so doing, Diop is allowing the audience the opportunity to form its own opinion by adding humanity into the mix.
Saint Omer is released in the UK cinemas on 3 February.