The director tells us about the “whirlwind” around her first fiction feature film.
This article contains excerpts from the interview given to us by Alice Diop for number 534 of Première. It is still available on our online store.
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After 15 years of career in the documentary field, with the key to a César for best short film for Vers la tendresse in 2017, Alice Diop has finally taken the step towards fiction. And how ! His first attempt is already a masterstroke: presented at the last Mostra in Venice, Saint-Omer walked away with the Grand Jury Prize and the First Film Prize. And he was chosen to defend France’s chances at the 2023 Oscars. An incredible journey for this great trial film inspired by the true story of a woman accused of having killed her fifteen-month-old daughter, abandoning her at the rising tide on a beach in northern France.
Saint Omer: a relentless and impressive trial film [critique]
Defined as “someone quite reserved“, the French director of Senegalese origin describes to us in the November issue of Première how she experienced the fact of being propelled to the front of the stage, she who was until now “confined to documentary cinema, which is more marginal“: “So I have to reconfigure a whole bunch of things that I didn’t necessarily want. But, in this whirlwind, I had a better experience of representing France at the Oscars than after Venice..”
“I see myself in the Venice airport with the two prizes under my arm, ready to fly to Toronto. I was dazed. It took me a long time to digest what had happened, even though I had an extraordinary meeting with Cate Blanchett – it took me a week to manage to read the letter she had written to me . It seemed too… radiant. I needed time to digest, get back on my feet and return to my obsessions, in my cave, where I feel better, when I dig my underground. But the sentence ” Saint Omer will represent France at the Oscars I was expecting him. This sentence ” Saint Omer – this film directed by a black woman, worn by two black French actresses – will represent France at the Oscars I find her politically magnificent. Because it’s not just about me, whereas Venice gave rise to a crystallization around my person as a filmmaker. Now I find that the world buys into the belief, which I have always had, that the black body can carry the universal. Julianne Moore told me that the actress who plays the role of the heroine’s mother made her think of her own mother. People talk to me about Saint Omer without ever talking to me about the black question. Always related to motherhood… and for me, that’s very political.”
Refusing the status of symbol, Alice Diop is delighted to see female directors imposing themselves, like her, in major festivals, and says to herself “very happy to be a 43-year-old female filmmaker in 2022“while noting that he”still a long way to go“.”I would not want my exceptional career to mask all the resistance still in place“, specifies the native of Aulnay-sous-Bois who obtained a DESS in sociology before embarking on the documentary.
“Our mothers have been silenced and today we finally have the floor to speak their silent word. That’s what interests me. I am no longer silent! And many of us no longer want to be silent. I have a problem with the notion of symbol because it erases all the possibility of singular voices. But I don’t want to be the only one. I want many of us. And the more of us there are, the more I will have the right to my singularity. We said it earlier: a film does not change the world. It changes a spectator who, added to others, transforms things.”
Saint-Omer hits theaters this Wednesday, November 23. Trailer :