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MOVIES (LFF 2022): Saint Omer - Review

A slow burner of a court case that's unlike few other, Saint Omer avoids the clear cut by making its subject a murderer - but the motives are empathetic; however hard to judge. What follows is not so much a trial to prove innocence; everyone knows Laurence Coly is guilty of killing her 15 month old daughter - but more is a point as to why she did it. Anchored by a terrific and understated performance by Guslagie Malanga, Saint Omer feels like quiet, angry cinema where you don't appreciate its full brilliance until the train ride home afterwards and the more you let it sink in.

Before I saw this I'd have told you that the French Oscar nominators were mad for not picking Athena as their main film and going with this one instead - but after watching I can see why they went with Alice Diop's earth-shattering character study. It has an air of maturity to it that the last courtroom drama I saw in the cinema, The Trial of the Chicago 7, didn't - further enhanced by the visuals of the impeccable Claire Mathon who really brings the most out of the courtroom location that the film predominantly takes place in, not flashing back to Coly's life but not needing to. As I said this is a different kind of courtroom drama, self-assured and observational - a mother-daughter relationship is put under the spotlight in more ways than one; and few movies hit as hard as this one does, never once stopping to throw heaps of exposition at us.

There's been a lot of false empathy-bait films that I've seen at LFF but nothing was able to pull off that feeling of honest, real empathy quite as well as Saint Omer. It's a harrowing story with no easy answers, challenging and thought-provoking in the best kind of ways - and exactly what cinema was made for.


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