Drawing on a tragic true event, this multi-awarded and mesmerising, stately courtroom drama upends notions of race, cultural heritage, class and female agency, and the mythologies and social prejudices underpinning received ideas.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2023
It’s 2016 in the small town of Saint Omer in north-eastern France, Laurence, a cultivated young Senegalese woman is on trial for infanticide. She doesn't deny the prosecution's version of events: despite being a loving mother, she consciously abandoned her 15-month-old daughter to the waves on a beach at night. But to the court’s general consternation, Laurence impassively refutes any guilt: her act was the result of sorcery meted out by her aunts back in Senegal.
Among the people attending the trial, Rama, a best-selling Parisian author and academic, also of Senegalese background, has come to document it. Her publishers expect a juicy account, whereas Rama imagines integrating Laurence’s story into the modern-day adaptation of Medea she is currently writing. As the trial unfolds, revealing haunting details of Laurence’s immigrant experience, the ‘truth’ remains elusive. Laurence only becomes more opaque and her motivations confoundingly mysterious, while Rama is increasingly rattled by unsettling childhood memories and unease about her own impending motherhood. – Sandra Reid
“Quietly momentous. An hypnotically absorbing film that challenges accepted ideas of perspective, of subjectivity and objectivity—and even of what cinema can be when it’s framed by an intelligence that doesn’t accept those accepted ideas. Extraordinary.” – Jessica Kiang, Variety
"[An] intellectually charged, emotionally wrenching story about the inability of storytelling – literary, legal or cinematic – to do justice to the violence and strangeness of human experience.” – A.O. Scott, New York Times