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Q&A: Filmmaker Alice Diop mines darkness in ‘Saint Omer’

French filmmaker Alice Diop poses for a portrait to promote

French filmmaker Alice Diop poses for a portrait to advertise “Saint Omer” in New York on Jan. 9, 2023. (Photograph by Christopher Smith/Invision/AP)

Christopher Smith/Invision/AP

In 2016, French documentary filmmaker Alice Diop made an uncommon determination. She determined to journey to a city in Northern France to observe the trial of a Senegalese lady, Fabienne Kabou, who one night time in 2013 left her 15-month-old daughter on the seashore to die.

Diop did not inform anybody she was going. She wasn’t even fairly certain herself. However what she witnessed over the course of these few days would encourage her first narrative movie, “Saint Omer,” which opens in US theaters Friday.

Quiet and haunting, “Saint Omer” just isn’t your normal courtroom drama, neither is it a garish “true crime” spectacle. In it, a pregnant novelist, Rama (Kayije Kagame), bears witness to the testimony of Kabou stand-in Laurence Coly (Guslagie Malanda). Since successful the characteristic debut award on the Venice Movie Pageant, “Saint Omer” has continued to gather accolades and nominations, together with a spot on the Oscars shortlist.

With an English translator by her facet, Diop spoke to The Related Press this week about her intentions for the movie, the “invisible ladies” at her coronary heart and the surprising catharsis she discovered that she needed to additionally give to audiences. Remarks have been edited for readability and brevity.

AP: Why do you suppose you have been compelled to go to the trial?

DIOP: I went to the trial as a result of I had a really sturdy instinct. However for a really very long time, I did not know what it was about. I did not suppose, ‘Oh, I’ll go to the trial and make a movie about it.’ I believe as a girl, as truly many different ladies round me, I used to be utterly fascinated by this story. I actually went as a girl. What struck me was a sentence that the defendant stated to the police. When the inspector requested, ‘Why did you kill your daughter?’ she stated, ‘I laid my daughter on the sand as a result of I needed the ocean to take her away from her.’ For the French, it carries a really deep, psychoanalytic dimension as a result of in French, the mom and the ocean are the identical phrase (mère and mer). In my head, I had the fantasy that she supplied her daughter to a mom that was extra highly effective than she felt. It’s this imagery of this mythological idea that grew to become a magnet for me. However in the course of the 5 days that I listened to this trial, I had no concept that it was going to attract me to the deepest, darkest place of my being.

AP: Having a baby myself viscerally modified how I processed films and tales about youngsters in misery. Did you could have an expertise like that too, as a mom desirous about a narrative like this?

DIOP: I can not precisely say that. However it’s true that my associate was very involved by my obsession with this story. Even for me it was an entire thriller. I didn’t perceive why me, as a Black lady, could possibly be so fascinated by this story of a Black lady that she had killed her youngster. That was incomprehensible to me. I’ll inform you one thing very private, which I by no means discuss. I truly had a really deep postpartum melancholy when my youngster was a child. And I consider that this trial is what helped me heal out of that melancholy. I not solely forgive myself, however I additionally forgive my mom. It is as if this trial was serving to me, killing all this trauma.

AP: Thanks for sharing that, I really feel like I’ll cry. We will definitely shift to speaking extra concerning the movie.

DIOP: It is much less harmful if we discuss concerning the movie.

AP: The concept of ​​the invisible lady comes up typically. Are you able to discuss concerning the significance of that?

DIOP: I believe it is a very central level of the movie. It frames and places gentle on the girl that no person listened to, that no person noticed, that no person was conscious of. And the mom of this lady, the mom of the character Rama, as my mom and all of the moms of this technology of immigrant ladies, are ladies that the cinema by no means confirmed or talked about. That is what decided one of the essential ideas of this movie, which is these very lengthy one takes in order that the viewers would lastly have the chance to intensely observe and pay attention to those ladies for the primary time. For me that may be a political assertion, and it is usually what drove me to need to make cinema. It is a software to point out these ladies, to place these ladies within the heart of visibility when no person else did it, and to grasp the complexity of the character fairly than the cliché.

AP: The rating can also be sparse however impactful.

DIOP: I needed this rating, the music, to evoke the theatricality and the parable of emotion that I needed to convey to the movie, like a Greek refrain, a bunch of ladies collectively wanting to watch and watch this unusual phenomenon that befell. And so far as the final piece, the Nina Simone tune (“Little Lady Blue”) to me is the voice that comes and brings comfort and soothing to every thing that we simply witnessed.

AP: It’s shocking to have the ability to discover catharsis in such a horrifying case.

DIOP: The movie works very onerous in withholding the emotion, in holding it inside. There’s a liberation of that emotion when now we have the lawyer’s closing argument in the direction of the top. Lastly, when Nina’s tune comes, no person can maintain the emotion anymore and what individuals really feel is not the story of the movie, however their very own story, as ladies, as little ladies. This movie, the best way I wrote it, was to provide the viewers the specter of non-public expertise as if that they had adopted the trial themselves. I used to be in tears on the finish of the trial, and I do know numerous ladies who watch it are utterly overwhelmed with feelings.


Comply with AP Movie Author Lindsey Bahr on Twitter:

This story was initially revealed January 12, 2023 2:48 PM.


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