In 2016, filmmaker Alice Diop attended the trial of Fabienne Kabou, who had admitted to killing her 15-month-old daughter, Adélaïde. For one week, Diop sat in a courtroom within the French city of Saint-Omer and listened as Kabou described leaving Adélaïde on the seashore of Berck-sur-Mer, the place her physique could be swallowed by the waves and later found by a fisherman. When requested why she dedicated the crime, Kabou merely stated, “Witchcraft. That’s my default explanation because I have no other.”
At the time, Diop was pregnant. The story of a Senegalese immigrant, at odds together with her personal mom, resonated deeply with the filmmaker. It introduced up basic questions on race and French colonialism, in addition to the obvious one: How may a mom kill her personal baby? Until then, Diop, who was born in France to Senegalese dad and mom, had made solely documentary movies. But after the trial ended, she determined to discover Kabou’s story by a dramatic lens. The ensuing movie, “Saint Omer,” is someplace between fiction and documentary.
Shot over three weeks within the precise city of Saint-Omer, the movie follows a literature professor named Rama (Kayije Kagame) who attends the trial of Laurence Coly (Guslagie Malanda). Laurence is, in essence, Kabou, whereas Rama is a fictional conduit for Diop herself.
“Everything that happened as far as the trial is concerned is practically a verbatim transcript of the trial,” Diop explains, talking over Zoom with the assistance of a translator. “[Kabou’s] style of language and her interaction with the prosecutor and the people in the court was so amazing to me, and that is in the film also. The film was born of the texture of that exchange and the quality of that dialogue that I could not have made up even if I was the greatest dialogist.”
She provides that together with fictionalized elements “allowed us to explore all these questions inside the documentary part of the film.”
Diop co-wrote “Saint Omer” with the movie’s editor, Amrita David, and Marie NDiaye, a well known French novelist and playwright. Diop was significantly excited by working with NDiaye as a result of she felt that Kabou’s story had a novel-like sensibility. In truth, throughout Kabou’s trial, which resulted in a 20-year jail sentence, many remarked on her distinctive high quality of speech and strange cadence. Diop needed to protect that within the movie, which resulted in 20-minute, one-shot takes of Malanda embodying Kabou’s precise testimony. Malanda says Diop inspired her to talk as if she was studying Marguerite Duras.
“Because of the colonization by the French in Africa, the French they speak is not everyday French,” Malanda explains. “It’s closer to literature, in a way. And in the case of Fabienne Kabou, it’s clearly a style she gives to herself. It became a singularity. She’s a bit like an alien with this language.”
“The greatness of her vocabulary and her expression allowed her to create a distance with the crime that she committed,” Diop provides. “Like in a great novel where you become engaged in understanding why it happened or how it happened, rather than be focused just on the horrible crime.”
While filming the courtroom scenes, which have been shot chronologically, Diop by no means known as “Action!” or “Cut!” Instead, she merely turned on the cameras and gave the actors house to genuinely expertise the dialogue.
“I was not interested in fabricating a fiction but in capturing a truth in the emotion and an intensity,” Diop explains. “Those very long one-shots allowed me to capture that, as we were not re-creating but living the actual moments. I wanted to create the feeling that the actors were actually living the experience. They were not performing.”
She provides, “My experience when I was watching the trial was I was absolutely riveted by the power of emotion and the intensity of this trial. All my effort and my stage direction [was] geared towards bringing the audience to have the same intensity of experience I had.”
Discussing the method now, Malanda describes it as “like my own trial.” To put together for the function, she and the filmmakers spent a day observing the courtroom case of a girl convicted of killing her husband. Malanda seen a definite sense of concern within the girl when she was known as upon to talk her identify to the choose, which she allowed herself to really feel on set.
“I was her,” Malanda says of her character, Laurence. “So in that moment of trial, there was no judgment [and] no empathy. … The empathy [for her] came before, when I prepared myself for the shooting, and after.”
By utilizing the format of a drama to inform a factual story, Diop is ready to arrive at an much more poignant model of the reality. For the filmmaker, who says she permits every mission to dictate its personal type, that reality is extra highly effective as a result of it’s instructed with a Black girl on the coronary heart of the story. Her “real, deep reason” for making “Saint Omer” was to current each Laurence and Rama as Black characters who go towards stereotype and are thus relatable to any viewer.
“I wanted to propose the universality of the Black body,” she says. “The questions that are brought out are universal. When women watch this film, whether they’re Black or white or whatever [race], they have the same rapport with the film. They have the same questions about their own daughter or mother relationships. In this way, the film is universal.”
In making “Saint Omer,” Diop was looking for her personal solutions to those profound questions. She’s persevering with to seek for them. But by the method of making the movie, Diop and her primarily feminine collaborators did uncover issues about themselves, as she hopes the viewers will do as effectively.
“It was as if all of us women on the set were constantly haunted by the presence of our mothers and children and we were having this dialogue all the time with these ghostlike ideas,” Diop remembers. “It is as if all the things that we would not have dared to tell our mothers, the things we had thought, the things we were afraid of, all these things were coming up for all of us. It was like a collective psychotherapy.”
At the top of taking pictures, the emotional depth was so nice, in truth, that Diop collapsed on the set.
“I fainted, and they had to take me away to the hospital,” she says. “It was as if after three weeks I had given birth to a monster. And the baby monster became a film called ‘Saint Omer.’”