Home Entertainment Saint Omer review – witchcraft and baby killing in extraordinary real-life courtroom drama

Saint Omer review – witchcraft and baby killing in extraordinary real-life courtroom drama

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Saint Omer review – witchcraft and baby killing in extraordinary real-life courtroom drama

Documentary maker Alice Diop delivers a piercing fiction function within the type of a courtroom drama, based mostly on a real-life case: mysterious, tragic and intimately unnerving. The severity and poise of this calmly paced film, its emotional reserve and ethical seriousness – and the elusive, implied confessional dimension regarding Diop herself – make it a unprecedented expertise.

Kayije Kagame performs Rama, a bestselling writer and tutorial who lives in Paris and is heading to the city of Saint Omer, close to Calais, to jot down what her publishers hope might be some commercially scrumptious literary reportage a couple of surprising legal case. Laurence Coly (fantastically performed by Guslagie Malanda) is a lady on trial for murdering her 15-month-old daughter, by leaving her on the seaside to be drowned by the incoming tide.

Like Rama, the defendant is of Senegalese background; like Rama, she is effectively educated and articulate; like Rama she is alienated from her mom and like Rama, she has, or had, a white companion. Rama had supposed to match this case to they fantasy of Medea: a conceit revealed to be glib and obtuse as she realises the related comparability is nearer at hand. She is overwhelmed by what she witnesses and by Coly’s brazen defence, maintained with unflinching, enigmatic conviction: that she was topic to sorcery and spells from her aunts again in Senegal. That is impressed by the actual case of Fabienne Kabou, who relied on the identical argument and whose 2015 trial was attended by Diop.

The courtroom procedural, carried out in chilly, clear daylight, permits Diop to dramatise the pure astonishment of the court docket and the French secular state at Coly’s defence. Regardless of conceding the prosecution’s model of occasions in each specific, she will not be pleading responsible and advancing her “sorcery” argument as a mitigating circumstance of, say, postnatal melancholy. She is – crucially – pleading not responsible; Coly needs to stroll free on the grounds that “sorcery” is a official various offender which white westerners ought to exert themselves to know.

The gripping authorized proceedings contact on race, class, gender, tradition and the tide of historical past and energy. After the jury is empanelled, Diop reveals how jurors of varied ages, professions and ethnic backgrounds are vetoed on depressingly apparent grounds by the defence and prosecution. The court docket is then tellingly knowledgeable that the newborn’s wretched corpse, washed up on shore, was at first naturally mistaken for a “migrant drowned in a shipwreck”. Coly’s sad childhood in Senegal and womanhood in France is juxtaposed with delicately formed, faintly Akermanesque flashbacks about Rama’s personal youth and the unhappiness of her mom.

Coly is emotionless and unemotional till virtually the very finish, evasive and ambiguous in her solutions; that is one thing mistaken for impenitence by the prosecution. The state calls Coly’s racist PhD supervisor to the witness stand, who mocks her need to review Wittgenstein as an alternative of “somebody from her personal tradition”. However Coly’s personal mom (Salimata Kamate) declines to debate her daughter’s motivation as a result of there are issues that “we will’t be clear about”; would possibly that recall Wittgenstein’s well-known maxim in regards to the things whereof we cannot speak?

Diop’s movie could possibly be mentioned to be on the defence’s aspect, in that whereas she reveals the eloquent closing argument from the defence lawyer Maître Vaudenay (Aurélia Petit), addressed straight into the digital camera and to us, the viewers, she doesn’t present the corresponding remaining speech from the prosecutor (Robert Cantarella), and actually cuts off a few of his bruising cross-examination to indicate Rama unhappily alone later in her resort room. However Diop does present loads of interrogative questioning from the court docket president (a composed, lucid efficiency from Valérie Dréville) which totally demolishes her “sorcery” argument.

May it’s that each Coly’s crime and her defence are an existential refusal of her destiny, a radical, merciless, bloodstained gesture of transgression and dissent, as a black girl within the white first world, craving for a western training and western standing, however someway a mendicant with a child? Does Diop want us to see Coly as the brand new equal of Pierre Rivière, the outsider legal found by Michel Foucault? Or is the movie quite a fictionalised working by of Diop’s personal complicated, turbulent emotions of revulsion and sympathy as she herself sat within the public gallery? It’s vital film-making.

Saint Omer is launched on 3 February in UK cinemas, and is screening now at cinemas in Australia.

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