Alice Diop interview: ‘Saint Omer’ director
“It’s an absolute honor and a source of pride for me,” says Alice Diop, the director and co-writer of “Saint Omer,” France’s entry for Best International Feature at the 95th Academy Awards. “It says something about the tradition of cinema that made me want to make films in the first place. I’m particularly happy to be chosen with ‘Saint Omer,’ which is a film that, like the kinds of cinema that I defend, places the formal concern at the center of the making process, and that is carried by two fantastic Black actresses that, in their characters and in themselves, carry absolutely universal concerns. I’m very happy that I was chosen to represent French cinema.” Watch our exclusive interview above.
“Saint Omer” follows Rama (Kayije Kagame), a novelist who attends the trial of Laurence Coly (Guslagie Malanda) at the Saint-Omer Criminal Court to use her story to write a modern-day adaptation of the ancient myth of Medea, but things don’t go as expected. It won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival as well as the Luigi De Laurentiis Award for Best Debut Film. Diop is the first Black female director whose film has been selected to compete for the Best International Feature Oscar for France.
Diop has made several documentaries, but this is her first narrative feature. “I think that what guided me towards fiction were the necessities that arise in this particular project,” she explains. “In general I don’t distinguish so much between fiction and documentary, myself. In this case it was more the fact of having to go through the trial process myself, so all of this sort of being lodged in my own experience. In that, it became clear to me, paradoxically, the fiction form was going to allow me to render more of that experience and to express what I wanted to carry in the centrality of the story better than a documentary would.”
The film was based on a real trial that Diop attended, in which a Senegalese woman was on trial for murdering her 15-month old infant. “Finding that balance is a little bit mysterious,” she reveals about creating a fiction film based on true events. “Of course the names of the characters were changed, but the text itself, the language that was used, comes from very rigorous field notes that I took, because I wouldn’t have just made a film about any sort of trial process. It was truly the words that were exchanged within the trial and the mysterious signification of that theater, which drove my impulse and, for me, was really dense in terms of the imagination that it carried.”