French court drama ‘Saint Omer’ wins top prize at Film Fest Gent

The French court drama Saint Omer by Alice Diop was awarded the Grand Prix for best film at Film Fest Gent. The Ukrainian Klondike and the Costa Rican-Belgian co-production Tengo suenos electricos receive an honorable mention, while the Swiss Three Winter receives the Georges Delerue Award for best music.

Ewoud Ceulemans

Six years ago, French director Alice Diop attended the trial of Fabienne Kabou, a young woman accused of murdering her 15-month-old baby in 2013. Up to that point, Diop had only made documentaries, but the Kabou case provided the inspiration for her first fiction film, Saint Omer. It was awarded the Grand Prix for best film on Friday evening at the 49th edition of Film Fest Gent. This price is linked to a distribution premium of 10,000 euros and a media campaign of 12,000 euros, of which 5,000 euros in cash The morning. After the documentary Petite fille and the dementia drama Vortex it is the third French film in a row to win the top prize in Ghent.

Saint Omer mainly takes place in court, where writer Rama (Kayije Kagame) follows the trial of Laurence Coly (Guslagie Malanga): a young woman from Senegal who studies philosophy in France and becomes pregnant by an elderly Frenchman. She hides the pregnancy and the birth, and deliberately lets the baby drown in the sea. During her trial, she claims she was bewitched and cursed.

Guslagie Malanga in director Alice Diop’s ‘Saint Omer’.Image Film Fest Gent

The strength of Saint Omer is that Diop gradually merges her two main characters. Both Rama and Laurence have a troubled relationship with their mother and with their own role as a mother – Rama also hides her pregnancy during the process – and feel like an outsider in France. Diop follows the lawsuit in a measured, almost distant style: the shots are held for so long and the camera is so still that you, as a viewer, get the feeling that you are staring at the characters uncomfortably.

The jury was “captured by the rigueur and the modesty in both the directing and the performances in this exceptional film. The question of what we have inherited from the previous generation and what we pass on to the next resonates on many levels and is intelligently woven into a drama that grips the throat and resonates for a long time to come.”

Saint Omer previously won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival, where Diop also won the Best Debut award. The film is the French Oscar entry for best foreign film, so it has to compete with Lukas Dhonts close, but also with many other films from the competition at Film Fest Gent. The Anachronistic Sissi Drama Corsage is the Austrian entry, the current one Klondikeset against the backdrop of pro-Russian unrest in the Donbas region in 2014, is the Ukrainian candidate. Klondikeby director Maryna Er Gorbach, received an honorable mention from the jury at Film Fest Gent, just like the coming of age movie Tengo suenos electricosa Costa Rican-Belgian co-production by Valentina Maurel.

Finally, there is the Swiss Oscar entry, Three Winter by Michael Koch: a quirky directed drama set in a mountain village. That film, with a score by Tobias Koch and Jannik Giger, was awarded the Georges Delerue Award for best music in Ghent. In that score, the sacred choral singing stands out the most. “The performances and the framing of the singers, as if they were telling a Greek tragedy, fascinated us and the music is perfectly attuned to the whole”, the jury found.

This year’s jury consisted of filmmaker and former Grand Prix winner Clio Barnard, actor Welket Bungué, director Alexandre Koberidze, editor Nico Leunen, composer Daniel Hart and filmmaker Nathalie Álvarez Mesén.

The choir in Michael Koch's 'Drii Winter'.  Image Film Fest Gent.

The choir in Michael Koch’s ‘Drii Winter’.Image Film Fest Gent.

Saint Omer hits theaters on November 30.

Discover the film selection of De Morgen during Film Fest Gent. Buy your tickets via and enjoy a free drink in the Film Fest Café.

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