Motherhood and sacrifice: the two have long been thought inseparable, but what if the sacrifice is of one’s own child, whether out of noble vengefulness (Medea), the agony of a worse fate (slavery in Toni Morrison’s Beloved), or perhaps for reasons that can never be fathomed. Director Alice Diop brings the tenderness and acuity of her documentaries We and The Death of Danton to bear on her first fiction feature, in which a young Senegalese woman is put on trial in the small French town of Saint Omer for the murder of her baby daughter. A tense courtroom drama and a work of great psychological complexity, Saint Omer follows a novelist covering the case who finds her assumptions about race, class, culture, and motive torn asunder, her character loosely based on Marguerite Duras, who in 1985 wrote a notorious essay “Sublime, Necessarily Sublime, Christine V” that wrongly imagined the mother of a murdered boy, 4-year-old Gregory Villemin, as the culprit. Starring Kayije Kagame and Guslagie Malanda.
(2022, dir. Alice Diop, DCP, color, French with English subtitles, 122 min. Courtesy SUPER)
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