SAINT OMER – Review by Diane Carson

The central tragedy of French director Alice Diop’s Saint Omer is as unusual as it is perplexing, based on a real 2016 court case. In the film Laurence Coly takes her mixed-race, fifteen-month-old baby Elise to Berck-sur-Mer, a depressed resort area within a national park on the Opal Coast, northern France. Shockingly, she abandons Elise on the sandy beach.

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MOVIE OF THE WEEK January 12, 2023: SAINT OMER

Saint Omer shows us that people are flawed and fragile, and that we all have a need to be seen and acknowledged. Our choices and actions define us, but we can’t always explain why we do what we do. In a world that seeks clear-cut motivations and places to lay blame, the complexity of personal history and traumatic experience means that there are shades of gray everywhere we look. Filmmaker Alice Diop understands this and lets this powerful, painful true story speak for itself.

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SAINT OMER – Review by Loren King

You’ve likely never seen a mother/daughter film like Saint Omer, a courtroom drama that defies the expected histrionics and finality of the genre’s conventions. Instead, writer/director Alice Diop delivers an intimate, unsentimental film that quietly but steadily accumulates in power. Saint Omer gradually and with subtlety peels back layers to reveal issues of culture and class, racism and misogyny, motherhood and daughterhood, and how Black women struggle to be seen in relationships, families, countries, courts. There is no cathartic conclusion. But Saint Omer ends on a compelling note with Nina Simone’s haunting rendition of Little Girl Blue which never sounded so sorrowful yet defiant.

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SAINT OMER (NYFF 2022) – Review by Margaret Barton-Fumo

Alice Diop has stated that all of her films “exist at the frontier where [fiction and documentary] meet,” and Saint Omer is no different. In conjunction with her co-writers, Amrita David and Marie Ndiaye, Diop reworked dialogue from the actual court case of Fabienne Kabou and allowed her actresses to perform under minimal direction. She also recreated the space of the criminal court in an adjacent room, adorning the walls with wood paneling in a measure of authenticity. With a cast that includes professional, amateur and non-actors, all of the courtroom scenes ring true to life, with an added drama that ties the film together.

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WE (Berlinale 2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

A French documentary filmmaker of Senegalese heritage, Alice Diop’s sociological sensibility and undisguised interest in French cultural and social politics has permeated work. With its world premiere at the 2021 Berlinale Encounters section, the simplicity of the title of her latest documentary We (Nous) suggests the looking glass nature of her project, focused as it is on using a busy French trainline as the literal and symbolic vehicle to profile a range of the city’s people, a meditative collection of individuals who seem disconnected but who ultimately come together under that elegant, simple banner: “we”.

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