Whether through documentary or fiction filmmaking, Alice Diop is searching for something true. Born in France to Senegalese immigrant, Diop's nonfiction films — seven in total, including 2022's award-winning Nous (We) — depict the reality of life in Paris, including bureaucratic hurdles, employment issues, and struggles with racism, as her subjects share the most intimate details of their daily existence.
"One of the reasons I made that film was to oppose the dominant image of France that denies a part of the population," she explains. "My way of being French is not being recognized in the dominant discourse. [Nous] is a film that is actively in resistance, which is political, but it's also a film that opposes the cliches that French people themselves have about the bonheur."
For her narrative debut, Diop has taken a fictional approach to a real-life case in Saint Omer. Inspired by a 2016 case, the film follows a writer as she observes the trial of a young immigrant who committed an unthinkable act. "In this case, fiction was the only way for me to tell this story,” Diop shares. Saint Omer won the Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize and Luigi de Laurentiis Award for Best Debut Film at the 79th Venice International Film Festival and was chosen as France's official entry for Best International Feature at the 95th Oscars.
Below, Diop shares with A.frame five of the films that have most impacted her as a viewer and inspired her as a filmmaker. "These are the films I come back to the most," she says. "The films and the filmmakers that have marked me profoundly are all ones that are searching. They're not working in normative forms, they're looking for something new. They're renewing forms through what they do."
Directed by: Claire Denis
One film that I always come back to is a film by Claire Denis, who I love on a personal level and an artistic level. That film is 35 Shots of Rum. It's the film that marked me the most deeply in my life, as a filmmaker, and really made me trust mise-en-scène direction as something that allows you to say political things. Sensuality in Claire Denis' films is so important. She does things that allow you to be sensually political and politically sensual.
Where to Watch: The Criterion Channel
Directed by: Chantal Akerman
Chantal Akerman's films have been integral to building me as a filmmaker, because she is someone who has navigated with such fluidity and a strong sense between mise-en-scène and fiction. Jeanne Dielman is a film I discovered 10 years ago, and it has been very important to me. It was a shock to discover that film.
Directed by: Frederick Wiseman
How can I not mention Frederick Wiseman? A large part of why I became a documentary filmmaker is because of Wiseman. Especially Public Housing, because I come from a background in doing history and anthropology at university. This is the film that made me understand cinema's power to carry a sociological and anthropological discourse to take questions that were stuck in the limited framework of the university and take these questions further. Public Housing made me want to start making documentaries. It showed me the complex power that cinema has to address sociological and anthropological questions.
Directed by: Marguerite Duras
I actually discovered Marguerite Duras quite late. Specifically, her film Les Mains négatives was a big influence on Nous. It's maybe not something that's obvious when you see the film, but her way of recording traces of people you don't necessarily see like fireflies, of trying to show people who have been silenced, that really inspired me for the character of Ismael Soumaïla Sissoko in Nous. There's something about that film that helped me understand the character of Ismael, not only from a filmmaker's perspective but a philosophical and political perspective.
Where to Watch: The Criterion Channel
Directed by: Maurice Pialat
This short film was the very first time I saw the suburbs of Paris filmed with grace, poetry, political power, and rage, and such an intimate, personal discourse. The voiceover is extraordinary and some of the shots really have the beauty and power of a photograph. It really inspired me, because it's a film where the framing allows you to see how remarkable it is to see something in such a graceful manner.