Saint Omer

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Synopsis

Bringing a documentarian’s sense of open-ended inquiry to her first narrative feature, writer-director Alice Diop constructs a morally and emotionally layered courtroom drama unlike any other. When she travels to Saint-Omer, France, to attend the trial of a young Senegalese woman (Guslagie Malanda) accused of murdering her infant daughter, novelist Rama (Kayije Kagame) finds herself shaken to the core by a case that proves to have profound resonances with her own life. Interweaving complex themes of mother-daughter bonds, immigrant alienation, and postcolonial trauma into a piercing portrait of two mysteriously connected women, Diop forgoes mere questions of guilt and innocence in order to plumb the unsettling unknowability of the human soul.

Picture 8/10

Alice Diop’s Saint Omer receives a Blu-ray edition from The Criterion Collection and is presented on a dual-layer disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode.

The movie was finished in 2K digital, and I assume this master is sourced from the digital intermediate. As such, the presentation comes down primarily to how it has been encoded, and in that area, the presentation is mostly good. Details are sharp and clean, while colors (composed primarily of browns and yellows) look nicely saturated. Black levels are also rich and deep, with excellent gradations in the shadows. Some minor macroblocking is evident in some brighter areas, but it’s rarely apparent, and I feel it is something you must be looking for.

Ultimately, it's a perfectly fine rendering of the movie's digital photography.

Audio 8/10

There isn't much to say about the French DTS-HD MA surround soundtrack other than that it sounds as good as one would more than likely expect. Dialogue is sharp and clear, and there is no distortion. It also doesn't sound filtered. The mix is limited; most of the audio comes from the fronts, with some ambient noise and music finding its way to the other speakers.

Extras 6/10

Criterion throws in a few supplements, all featuring director Alice Diop, the most significant being a 63-minute conversation between Diop and scholar Hélène Frappat, filmed in July of 2023 at Maison de la poésie. The discussion focuses on the use of language in literature and film, specifically women’s use of language through the ages, with some exploration of the pushback that can come with it. The conversation even veers into where race can have an impact, Diop explaining how, as a Black woman filmmaker, she has to be more aware of both the dialogue and visual language of her work following comments she has received about how her perspective isn’t “universal,” which means to those who say it that she's not delivering a White individual's perspective, which is all the more unfair since the film's themes are very much universal. She even discusses how she received criticism on opening the film with a reference to Marguerite Duras, as though that director couldn’t inspire her since Duras was White, forgetting Diop is French. This also parallels one scene in the film, which the two further explore. The discussion is lengthy and has some interesting back-and-forth. Still, somewhat frustratingly (especially when considering some of the topics covered), Frappat steers the conversation and takes up most of the allotted time, and Diop rarely gets to chime in. This may have been very well intentional, with Diop interested in what Frappat had to say on the subject since it's clearly in her area of expertise, but things only felt to liven up when Diop was able to contribute.

Diop has more to do with the other supplements, though they can be painfully short. She appears on the Podcast Director’s Cut: A Director’s Guild Podcast to discuss the making of the film with director Dee Rees, talking about her framing and editing and how she worked to avoid the pitfalls of a courtroom drama. Sadly, much of the time is spent translating between French and English, leaving little for a Q&A at the end. There’s also a 10-minute making-of interview with the director from 2022, featuring her talking about the courtroom case that inspired her to make the film. Criterion then records a new 9-minute audio interview with the director, who speaks a bit more about the court case that influenced her first non-documentary feature, the process of developing the script, and the planning that went into the film's look.

Neon's original trailer also appears on the disc.

The features are ultimately okay, covering the film's production and the case that influenced it to a decent, if not entirely satisfactory, degree. Diop's comments on constructing and collaborating with others on the film were also good. Still, it feels all thrown together, and it doesn't even bother exploring her previous documentary work, outside of a few mentions in the included essay written by Jennifer Padjemi found in the film included insert. Underwhelming in the end.

Closing

The release delivers a fine enough digital presentation with a decent, if unsatisfying, batch of extras.

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Directed by: Alice Diop
Year: 2022
Time: 123 min.
 
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 1212
Licensor: Neon
Release Date: March 26 2024
MSRP: $39.95
 
Blu-ray
1 Disc | BD-50
1.85:1 ratio
French 5.1 DTS-HD MA Surround
Subtitles: English
Region A
 
 New interviews with director Alice Diop   Conversation between Alice Diop and author Hélène Frappat   Conversation between Alice Diop and filmmaker Dee Rees from a 2023 episode of The Director’s Cut – A DGA Podcast   Trailer   An essay by critic Jennifer Padjemi