She was born that day, in Venice, under the gaze of President Julianne Moore. Alice Diop, upset, receives a double prize – Grand Jury Prize and Best First Film – for her first fiction “Saint-Omer”. She then quotes the black American poet Audre Lorde: “My silences did not protect me. Your silence will not protect you either. And she adds: “We will not be silent any longer”. “Saint Omer” speaks of motherhood, this “common history” shared by all women, regardless of skin color. “I want to offer the black body the possibility of saying the universal. Our intimacy is not yet fully considered as being able to speak to the intimacy of the other”, she explains. Since then, the film has received the prestigious Jean Vigo prize and will represent France at the Oscar for best international film.
Having grown up in Aulnay-sous-Bois, in the city of 3000, Alice Diop is “the daughter of a cleaning lady and a Senegalese worker”, she says. For more than 20 years, this obstinate person has been making committed documentary films about the suburbs where she comes from. “We” (2021) awarded in Berlin, “Vers la tendresse” (2016), “La mort de Danton” (2011)… Through her films, she wants to “save from oblivion lives that are ignored, neglected, judged without importance”. His films are “the fruit of an intuition that turns into an obsession”, that of bringing cinema where no one is looking.
Haunted by the infanticide of Saint-Omer
One day in 2015, Alice Diop came across a photo in the newspaper Le Monde. That of a woman, Gare du Nord, with a baby bundled up in a stroller. For the past few days, France has been in turmoil because a 15-month-old child was found drowned on the beach at Berck-sur-Mer (62). The police investigation traces the trail of the murderess back to this woman, the mother of the child, whom the director immediately identifies as Senegalese. She then has the same age, the same origin; she too is a mother. Without telling anyone, Alice Diop thinks “H 24 to this woman who admitted to having deposited her child on the beach at high tide”.
A little Adelaide, whom Fabienne Kabou – sentenced in 2017 for infanticide – had never declared to the civil registry. What fascinates Alice Diop is that the exceptional IQ of Fabienne Kabou, her doctoral studies do not prevent her from invoking a “maraboutage”.
In June 2016, Alice Diop followed the trial which took place in Saint-Omer “a completely devastated town in Pas-de-Calais where only the posters of Marine Le Pen were not torn down”. In order to understand the reason for her unmentionable obsession, she wants to make a film. The murderer, she wants the trial to teach her why she killed her child. “I wanted to represent a complex woman, with her violence, her anger, her revolt, a powerful Medea and not a poor scorned immigrant”, specifies Alice Diop.
The actress Guslagie Malanda plays the role of this mother in the film, but “much less cold, implacable and without remorse” than the true protagonist of the drama. What mothers, what pains, what heritage are we made of?
This organic and political film evokes the monstrous that everyone carries within and the possibility of forgiveness.
“Saint-Omer”, in theaters on November 23.
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Director Alice Diop will represent France at the Oscars with “Saint-Omer”