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Laramie Movie Scope: Saint Omer

Medea, African, French culture clash

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 3, 2022 – A French author is troubled by parallels between herself and the defendant of a murder trial in Saint Omer in this based-on-fact courtroom drama. It is France's official international film entry to the 95th Academy Awards.

The movie opens with Laurence Coly (played by Guslagie Malanda) carrying her child Lili alone at night on a deserted beach in France. Then it cuts to Rama (played by Kayije Kagame) a successful author, who is giving a college lecture. Rama and her family argue over who is to take her mother to therapy. Rama says she can't do it because she will be out of town, attending a trial in Saint Omer. It is the trial of Coly, who killed her own child that night on the beach.

There are many parallels between the characters in this movie and the director, Alice Diop (“We”). Diop herself attended a murder trial in 2016 which forms the basis for this movie. She became obsessed with the trial because she saw many similarities between herself and the woman on trial for killing her child. The accused woman was an immigrant from Senegal, and Diop's own family came from Senegal. Like the woman on trial, Diop had problems in her relationship with her mother. Diop was pregnant with her first child at the time of the trial.

Diop decided to make a movie based on the trial she attended, and also made it about her own experiences and feelings as well. In the movie, an author, Rama attends the trial Laurence Coly with the idea of writing a book, based on the trial, relating Coly's story to the classic tale of Madea.

At the trial it is revealed that Coly moved from Senegal to France to study law, but had conflicts with her parents when she changed her major to philosophy. This caused her father to stop paying for her education.

Coly could not afford to pay rent, so she moved in with a man, Luc Dumontet (Xavier Maly) who became her lover. Dumontet was still married, and had a daughter, but was no longer living with his wife. He kept his two lives separate. When Coly became pregnant, she didn't tell Dumontet about it and did not go out in public, or even visit doctors. When Luc found out about the pregnancy she said it was too late for an abortion.

Coly gave birth to a daughter, Lili. She did not take the child out in public, and there was no record of the child's birth. The prosecution argued that since there was no record of the child's existence, the child would be less likely to be missed if it disappeared. After she killed the child, Coly told Dumontet that she had sent the child to be raised by her relatives in Senegal.

As the trial goes on, Rama, who is four months pregnant herself, and who has similar problems with her own mother, becomes increasingly troubled by the trial. Rama had not yet told her own mother that she was pregnant at the time of the trial. This is another similarity between her life and that of Coly's.

During a noon break in the trial, she has lunch with Coly's mother, Odile Diatta (Salimata Kamate) who seems concerned mainly with how her daughter's behavior reflects on Diatta herself. At the trial, Diatta blames Coly's behavior on sorcery, or a curse.

French trials are somewhat different than American trials, in that the presiding judge is much more involved in the questioning of witnesses, and the defense and prosecution lawyers are freely allowed to offer their own opinions and speculations about the facts of the case and the validity of testimony.

This movie is largely a courtroom drama, and as such it becomes static at times, almost like a one act play. This movie trial is more static than usual. Any courtroom drama, like “Inherit the Wind,” for instance, hangs on the quality of the testimony, rhetoric and speeches. Here, the testimony is muddied by a lot of lies and speculation, making it hard to tell what is true and what is not.

Defense attorney Maître Vaudenay (Aurélia Petit) does give a spellbinding summation speech in Coly's defense that also serves as lesson in genetics and motherhood. This is easily the highlight of the trial. The speech is also emotionally devastating to Rama.

Rama is so upset by the trial, that she skips some of it. In the end, she seems to take away something positive from the experience. This is an effective emotional movie about motherhood, family dynamics and the immigrant experience. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2022 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]