On trial is Laurence Coly, a Senegalese immigrant accused of drowning her toddler in the sea in northern France. The facts of the case are undisputed; Laurence admits she did it, but insists that she isn’t responsible for the act
Saint Omer takes off from this baffling contradiction, shining a sympathetic light on a woman too easily dismissed as a monster. Through the pained perspective of Rama, a successful novelist writing about the trial, we witness the reconstitution of Laurence as a subject for the Law. A student of Western philosophy, Laurence expresses herself in refined French with great lucidity and reserve. This seeming lack of difference, of otherness, proves to be an aporia for an array of discourses seeking to explain her away.
Based on real events, Alice Diop’s first fictional work tackles fraught philosophical ideas with a rarefied, almost austere approach. The filmmaker reconstructs courtroom proceedings in long shots that emphasise portraiture and the spoken word. In her dignity in the face of ignominy, in her psychological intransigence, and in her inscrutability even to herself, Laurence achieves something like a state of grace, coming to embody the paradoxes and mysteries of maternity itself.