Inspired by true events, co-writer, and director Alice Diop in “Saint Omer” presents the story of a novelist who attends the Saint-Omer Criminal Court to follow the trial of Laurence Coly. As the story unfolds, we see some horrific events, and the audience becomes the jury.
A mother is seen with a baby moving toward the sea while Rama (Kayije Kagame) gets up from her bed, dreaming about her mother. The scene shifts to the university, where a film clipping is shown, and Rama says to her students that they will now focus on the work of Marguerite Duras. Rama travels to her mother’s place and is seen having lunch with her family and her husband, but she is not having a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Rama is later seen attending the trial of Laurence Coly (Guslagie Malanda), who has been accused of murdering her fifteen-month-old daughter, Elise. She left her daughter at the beach, where she drowned. As the judge asks why she committed this crime, Miss. Coly wittingly tells the judge that this case may help her to find that answer.
Miss Coly is an immigrant in France who grew up in Senegal and was close to her grandmother. Her father left when she was a child, but she materially lacked nothing. She shared a distant relationship with her mother, who raised her but shared a bond with her father in the cultural arts. Miss Coly then tells the judge she came to France in order to get away from her parents, as sometimes things became oppressive. Then she tells about her staying in Paris as an immigrant and her problems with staying with her cousin Marthe. She went back to Senegal after that to attend her grandmother’s funeral and could not settle well there as she did not receive a warm welcome. Her father also stopped supporting her education in France as she wanted to pursue philosophy rather than law, and after that, their relationship was severed. Miss Coly then tells the judge about her moving in with Mr. Dumontet, with whom she shared a romantic relationship despite the age difference. Interestingly, Mr. Dumontet was already married and had a child, but Miss Coly did not mind that, and she said it was sensible for her to move in with him as she had no place to stay and they were in love.
Miss Coly tells the judge about the fragmented relationship she shared with Mr. Dumontet and how things became even more complicated when she became pregnant. Mr. Dumontet is brought into the courtroom, and he says the murder committed by Miss Coly was “incomprehensible.” He also highlights how good a mother Miss Coly was, and they had a 3-year deal so she could finish her studies and get a job as a university lecturer. Here, Mr. Dumontet interestingly adds the jealous character trait of Miss Coly and how she used to opt for silent treatment. Mr. Dumontet did not even know about the pregnancy, and one time, when he came back from visiting his dying brother, he found Miss Coly with Elise on the bed, which was a shock for him. The judge confirms Mr. Dumontet’s testimony with various questions, like why he did not tell her family about his newborn baby, why he did not take care of Miss Coly and her daughter, and many more for which he was unable to provide any concrete answers. Miss Coly is asked about her prison conditions, which seem satisfactory, and the court is adjourned. Rama returned to her hotel with a lady with whom she decided to have lunch the next day. Here it is seen that Rama is working on a book regarding this trial and receives a phone call from the publisher about the updates. While hearing the recording on her phone of the trial, Rama has flashbacks of the memories she had with her mother in her childhood.
The next day, the trial begins, and Miss Coly talks about the loneliness she felt before the birth of her daughter. Depression has led her to have blurred vision and hear strange noises. Mr. Dumontet was not interested in hearing these things, and the suggestions of the doctor did not help her either. So she took the help of clairvoyants, but when the court checked her phone call history and contacted the clairvoyants, no information was found regarding Miss Coly’s interaction. Her daughter was born at the studio; at that time she was not going out anywhere, and during her first contractions, she did not contact Mr. Dumontet as she felt it was not necessary. Mr. Dumontet’s words after Lily’s birth were so vulgar that Miss Coly lied to him about the place of the birth and registration. Miss Coly again highlights that she was forced to commit this murder due to some sorcery on her but the court does not take this in warm regard. The scene shifts to Rama, who is lying in bed, caressing her belly, and humming a tune. She again sees flashes of her childhood, and when the telephone rings in her room, the receptionist tells her a lady is waiting for Rama. They are in a restaurant, and the identity of the lady is revealed. She is Madam Diatta, the mother of Miss Coly.
Miss Coly’s mother and Rama are seen talking when she asks Rama about her pregnancy. The scene again shifts to court, where Mrs. Jobard, a professor, tells the court that Miss Coly did not finish her degree and that her choice of subject was quite odd. Mrs. Jobard highlights that her thoughts and writing never seemed to synchronize. Madam Diatta is called by the judge, and she tells her that sorcery and curse were behind the incident and no other thing can explain this. The judge and the prosecutor read several transcripts in the courtroom about the case. In the midst of this, when Rama is looking toward Miss Coly, she glances at Rama and gives her a smile, which forces Rama out of court. Rama returns to her room in a frenzied state and breaks down crying. Rama again sees memories of her childhood with her mother. In court, Miss Coly tells about the events of that fateful day and how she slept like a log that night. The prosecutor says that the whole event, from the beginning to the end, was scripted, as no one knew about the existence of her daughter except Mr. Dumontet. In the hotel room, Rama’s husband is seen saying that she should not get too involved in the case as it has nothing to do with them. Rama tells him that she is scared she will become like her mother, who is a mentally broken woman. In court, Miss Coly’s counsel tells the jury and the court how her loneliness and depression have led Miss Coly to a sense of insanity where she can see hallucinations and hear voices. When she committed the murder, she was not in the right state of mind. Miss Coly is seen breaking down in tears in the arms of her counsel. The film ends with Rama holding the hands of her mother, and both of them are seen resting.
‘Saint Omer’ Ending
“Saint Omer” heavily focuses on the immigrant experience and how they are seen as shadows in a foreign land. The themes of loneliness are highlighted at several points as what it does to a human being. Laurence Coly becomes one of the mouthpieces for the many immigrant experiences we hear about.