Saint Omer Alice Diop interview
Director Alice Diop talks about the unseen (but heard) relationships between the film’s protagonists.
There are a thousand ways to film a true crime story, but perhaps only one, if the goal is to focus the audience on the nuances of the characters in a way that encourages self-reflection rather than judgment. “Saint Omer” does just that, in no small part because director Alice Diop approaches the film form with a mix of documentary and narrative techniques. The film is based on the real-life trial of a woman accused of murdering her infant daughter, but this fictional account relies entirely on strategic machinations by the prosecution and defense, thrilling revelations of withheld information, or crime-scene entertainment. Instead, Diop’s precisely composed long films simply force us to sit and listen to the story of Laurence Coly (Guslagie Malanda).
In screenplays, a lot of invisible work is usually done to keep the audience focused on the drama at hand—everything from changing one day’s sky to another, to customizing the soundscape to focus on dialogue until important background noises appear to establish or reinforce a setting. . The courtroom, where most of “Szent Omeer” takes place, is a little more chaotic, but more realistic, with a loud atmosphere of rustling and wandering noise. There is always a little human touch in the background, even when there is a trial for a baby murder.
The soundtrack for “Saint Omer” was created by sound editor Josefina Rodríguez and re-recording mixer Emmanuel Croset, a veteran of Frederick Wiseman’s documentaries. But Rodrígeuz, Croset, and director Alice Diop take this more textured, more human soundscape, and then decide to amplify the distinctive sounds of breathing at the beginning, end, and key moments of the film. The simple, audible reminder that these people are alive prevents the audience from projecting tropes onto them.
It’s impossible for a reason. “It’s a very intellectual, cerebral film, but at the same time (it’s) very empathetic, very palpable,” Diop told IndieWire. “(And every feeling) is created through highly refined sound work, led by my sound editor and mixer. .” Diop and his team make it slightly ambiguous whether the voices are coming from Laurence Coly in the defendant’s box or novelist Rama (Kayije Kagame) watching from the stands, but to a purpose: the overwhelming presence of the voice and the absence of a clear source actually. unites the two protagonists.
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“The breaths we hear from Laurence and Rama at the trial are like another language. It’s a way to get extremely close to the emotions, feelings and sensations of these characters,” said Diop. The sound almost feels like a way to get inside them and experience the extremely free, utilitarian courtroom, the space seemingly dedicated to objectivity and truth, from a highly subjective perspective. But the viewer decides to some extent what this subjective point of view is. In a sense, the audience has access to the subjectivities of Rama and Laurence, and the soundscape unites both. Diop’s approach to sound reflects her approach to portraying all the characters’ complex relationships with motherhood.
“It comes from holding back breaths,” Diop said. “The film is on the border between fiction and documentary, but at the same time it is extremely, extremely filmy. The sound creation is inspired by the documentary film, but it also carries (abstract, expressive techniques).”
To hear more of IndieWire’s interview with Diop, listen to the latest episode of Filmmaker Toolkit, available at: Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Cloudyand Lacing machine.
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