A mother is on trial for murdering her child. We know how, but not why. Nor does the mother. She does not deny the act but denies that she is the guilty party. The trial, she hopes, will explain things.

Ditto for Rama (Kayije Kagame) sitting in the courtroom. She is a writer of some success and attends the trial of Laurence Coly (Guslagie Malanda) for her next work. Rama is also four months pregnant and worried. Not that she will turn out like Laurence Coly, but like her own mother. Laurence Coly’s mother (Salimata Kamate) is also at the trial. A theme emerges.

Directed by Alice Diop, Saint Omer—named after the French city where the trial takes place—is a courtroom drama that becomes more and more theatrical as the narrative proceeds. Diop methodically paces the proceedings, revealing bits here and there, often casually and through what is unsaid as opposed to what is spoken. It’s a luring effect that floats quietly along until the word “Medea” is said roughly halfway through, a reference to the Greek tragedy where a mother murders her two children to get back at her philandering husband. 

This utterance shifts the drama of Saint Omer from the specific into something existential, but Diop resists the mythology of Medea by focusing on the relationship between mother and child. And when the defense attorney (Aurélia Petit) delivers the closing remarks, she does so directly to the camera. There are clear answers in Saint Omer, but answers are rarely assuring.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Saint Omer (2022)
Directed by Alice Diop
Written by Amrita David, Alice Diop, Zoé Galeron, Marie N’Diaye
Produced by Toufik Ayadi, Christophe Barral, Rémi Burah, Olivier Père
Starring: Kayije Kagame, Guslagie Malanda, Valérie Dréville, Aurélia Petit, Salimata Kamate
Neon, Rated PG-13, Running time 122 minutes, Premiered Sept. 7, 2022 at the Venice Film Festival

The above blurb first appeared in the pages of Boulder Weekly, Vol. 30, No. 22, “Mommy issues.”