Alice Diop, a cinema that mixes the intimate and the political



Alice Diop is obsessed with the clarity and precision of her language. When she talks about her films, she turns around an idea for a long time, suspends her sentence for a moment in search of the right word, then finally gives up to try to explain herself differently. A mania no doubt inherited from her university education but also from the responsibility that this daughter of Senegalese immigrants feels towards a generation deprived of speech.

I’m allowed to speak where our fathers couldn’tshe explains. I have to be heard and language doesn’t always allow it, so the cinema appeared to me as the place that offered me the possibility of saying things more precisely. »

With Saint Omer, her first fiction feature in theaters on Wednesday, the 43-year-old director suddenly came into the light. Twice awarded at the Venice Film Festival (Grand Jury Prize and Best First Film), winner of the Jean-Vigo Prize, his film was chosen to represent France at the next Oscars.

However, Alice Diop has been shooting remarkable documentaries for a little over fifteen years. The last Wea sensitive exploration of our French identity through a trip to the territories along line B of the RER, had already been crowned in Berlin last year.

For Saint Omer, she was inspired by the trial for infanticide of Fabienne Kabou, this young mother who had abandoned her 15-month-old baby on a beach in Berck-sur-Mer in 2013, to try to probe its mystery. But there is no difference for me between my filmsshe insists. Above all, it was the impossibility of talking about this story through a documentary that pushed me towards fiction. »

“Questioning this troubled link that is motherhood”

She herself attended the proceedings and reconstructs the content, through the eyes of a young novelist, Rama, who is expecting a child and finds herself upset by what resonates in her behind the accused’s story. “What interested me was not so much the news item but what this woman comes to question in us about this troubled, ambivalent and inextricable link that is motherhood. »

Although she denies having made Rama her cinematic double – “Rama is all of us”, she says – it’s hard not to see in this film everything that makes up the very material of her work and that is at the source of her desire to make films. The one “to offer the black body the possibility of saying the universal” and at the same time, to deconstruct the stereotypes attached to it.

Staging women in their complexity

All my films are marked by this desire and Saint-Omer is no exception, she continues. The pleasure was also to stage powerful, mysterious, ambivalent women who, in their complexity, renew the imagination that we have of black women in cinema. »

Since her debut, the filmmaker has continued to dig the same furrow, traveling with her camera through the territories of Seine-Saint-Denis where she grew up: the city of 3,000 in Aulnay-sous-Bois and its cultural diversity for The world tour (2006), the Avicenne hospital in Bobigny in Permanence (2016) which receives men and women suffering from the wounds of exile, or La Courneuve and his young men evoking their romantic relationships in Towards tendernessCésar for best short film in 2017.

The daughter of a car construction worker and a cleaning lady, Alice Diop first turned to university and colonial studies at La Sorbonne – she devoted her master’s thesis to the journal African presence and intellectuals of negritude – before branching off into documentaries.

Intimacy is political

The colonial question is still present today in social relations and in the way of thinking and seeing the black body, she explains. Being aware of this freed me up in a way, but I needed to share this experience more widely and cinema seemed to me the most appropriate tool for that. » A DESS in visual sociology and a documentary writing workshop at La Femis complete his training.

His first job was to film his father for a long time in his living room, retracing his emigration journey. She will then never cease in her work to mix the intimate and the collective, the personal and the universal. A way for her “to fill in the missing stories” national history, “to open the door of our families to say who we are and escape projections”.

“There is no more politics than intimacy, is she convinced. Starting from there makes it possible to refuse assignments and to sweep away fantasies and prejudices. »

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His inspiration. Bourdieu and African-American literature

“My political conscience was forged empirically, being a black Frenchwoman, from a working-class background, and living in a peripheral district. I knew the obstacles, the dead ends, the aborted dreams of such a situation but I didn’t have the words to express it.

It’s my encounter with Bourdieu and African-American literature – James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, etc. – but also writers like Philip Roth who allowed me to think about and understand my position as a minority. It is a self-awareness shaped by history and which we seek to reclaim. For some, it goes through activism or direct political engagement, for me it’s cinema with its tools and the diversity of its forms. »

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