Saint Omer

Saint Omer

Follows Rama, a novelist who attends the trial of Laurence Coly at the Saint-Omer Criminal Court to use her story to write a modern-day adaptation of the ancient myth of Medea, but things don’t go as expected.

Based on a 2016 court case, ‘Saint Omer’ is the story of a woman who was convicted of killing her own daughter, seen through the eyes of a literary professor and novelist who becomes obsessed with the case. It is the debut fiction feature from documentarian Alice Diop and is based on her experiences following the case of Fabienne Kabou, with Diop finding some dark truths that she could relate to in Kabou’s story that led her to this point. Kabou, like Diop, was Senegalese, an immigrant and in a mixed-race relationship, and her story carried additional resonance as a result. Diop’s intention wasn’t to make a film about the case when she first started attending the trial, documentary or fiction, but by the end of the trial after hearing Kabou’s story she felt there was a story to make by recreating her own experiences following the trial.

In ‘Saint Omer’, we follow Rama (Kayije Kagame), a pregnant novelist who travels to the Northern commune of the title, with the aim of covering the trial of Laurence (Guslagie Malanda) and turning the tragic story into a new book. Laurence stood accused of murdering her 15-month-old daughter by leaving her on a beach as the tide was coming in, and the movie places us in a difficult position of listening to her version of events and finding whatever empathy we can for the circumstances that drove her to commit such a horrific crime. The movie splits its time between courtroom drama and Rama’s response to what she hears, and it’s in Rama’s response that ‘Saint Omer’ is at its strongest. Rama sees a woman not unlike her and finds it difficult to comprehend that an individual with a similar upbringing and experience to her could do something so abhorrent, and it draws out her own anxieties about her impending motherhood.

For all ‘Saint Omer’ is a harrowing and often disturbing watch, given the nature of the crime committed by Laurence, it is also a film with much to say about the immigrant experiences and the anxieties that can impact an individual preparing to become a parent for the first time. Diop’s background as a documentarian makes her well suited to the material, with her camerawork allowing the audience to focus on the performances and the story being told without distracting with visual flourishes. Both Kayije Kagame and Guslagie Malanda are relatively new to acting and I thought both were excellent – in many respects two sides of the same coin and a viewpoint into two paths that could be travelled, which is what scares Rama so much.

Saint Omer‘ is a very good debut feature from Alice Diop, demonstrating that her talent lies in fiction filmmaking as much as it does in documentaries, with her care and compassion to her subject matter making this is a thought provoking and compelling watch.

Rating: 4/5

Directed By: Alice Diop

Starring: Kayije Kagame, Guslagie Malanda, Valérie Dréville, Aurélia Petit, Xavier Maly, Robert Canterella, Salimata Kamate and Thomas de Pourquery

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