“Saint Omer”: Alice Diop’s film in the running for the 2023 Oscars

Silence will not protect us. We won’t be silent anymore“. And it is perhaps from the stage of the Oscars that Alice Diop will once again have the opportunity to break the silence to carry loud and clear the voice of black women. Her film Saint-Omer is selected to represent France in the illustrious Hollywood competition.

A film in which she pays tribute to black women, as she already explained on the stage of the 79th Venice Film Festival during the closing ceremony in mid-September. The French filmmaker had taken advantage of being in full light, to receive her two prizes, the grand jury prize (Silver Lion) and the prize for the first film (Lion of the future) to quote, with her voice imbued with emotion, the American poet and activist Audre Lorde (sister outsiderEditions Mamamelis, 2018).

I used a sordid-looking news item to question something much larger: the relationship that all women and all men have with motherhood.
Alice Diop, director

Until now specialized in documentaries, the director chooses this time to express herself through fiction. Saint Omer (2022) is inspired by a true story: the trial of an infanticide, the Fabienne Kabou affair.”I used a sordid-looking news item to question something much larger: the relationship that all women and all men have with motherhood.“, she confided.

Alice Diop, from documentary to fiction

Born in 1979 to Senegalese parents, Alice Diop grew up in Aulnay-sous-Bois in the Paris suburbs before embarking on studies in history and then sociology, which led her to the documentary workshop of the prestigious film school. Femis.

His film Towards tenderness (2017) won in the category of best short film at the 2017 Césars. During the award ceremony, Alice Diop dedicated it to the victims of police violence, citing Zyed and Bouna, Théo and Adama Traoré.

To (re) read: When Alice Diop leads us “towards tenderness” in the masculine

She returns in 2021 with We (2021)a documentary that paints an oblique portrait of France in the mirror of the Parisian suburbs, following the route of the RER B. It won the prize for best film in the Encounters section at the Berlinale in 2021. In 2022, it goes to the fiction with Saint Omer (2022), for which she has just received two awards at the Venice Film Festival. The film will be released on November 23 in French cinemas.

A first fiction from a real news item

In fiction, Rama, a novelist in her thirties, attended the trial of Laurence Coly in the Assize Court of Saint-Omer in 2016. The young mother is accused of having killed her 15-month-old daughter Ada, abandoning her on a beach in Berck in the north of France, at rising tide. The accused, born in Dakar in 1977, was then a student. She received a 20-year prison sentence but appealed. A year later, his sentence was reduced to 15 years in prison. The court accepted mental illness as a mitigating factor.

The film focuses on the course of the trial, in 2016, which Alice Diop actually attended in reality. “I was obsessed with this story from the start (…) I was really very upset, flabbergasted, traversed by a lot of quite intimate things about my relationship with motherhood.

All the women present at the trial were struck by something very, very intimate“, she asserts.

Indeed, these are not figures of black women that we are used to seeing (…) but it is also where we are and, in fact, it is where I am.Alice Diop, director.

A feminist film

The accused,is a woman of enormous complexity (…) she is not a woman who necessarily arouses compassion, she is an extremely powerful woman, but who is also monstrous, who is also pathologically insane, who has faults , which has gray areas, which is not unambiguous“, she explains.

It was a real creative pleasure to show (…) the complexity of a woman like Laurence and to unleash imaginations on what a black woman is.“, adds the director.

A black woman can be an intellectual (…) indeed, these are not figures that we are used to seeing, this is not where we are waiting, but it is also where we are and, in fact, this is where I am“.

A feminist fight that the director extends beyond her art. As a member of collective 50/50, she campaigns for gender equality in the film industry.

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“Saint Omer”: Alice Diop’s film in the running for the 2023 Oscars