Fantasy and Reality Collide in Jean-Bernard Marlin’s Second Film, Salem

Fantasy and Reality Collide in Jean-Bernard Marlin’s Second Film, Salem

French director Jean-Bernard Marlin made a name for himself with his Marseille-set debut film, Shéhérazade, which took Cannes Critics’ Week by storm in 2018. His second film, Salem, premiering in Un Certain Regard at Cannes this year, also captures the gritty reality of Marseille’s poverty-stricken neighbourhoods but with a twist. Marlin has added a layer of fantasy to the tale, making it a unique cinematic experience. The film follows Djibril, a Comorian teenager, who gets involved with a Romani girl living in a rival neighbourhood. When she falls pregnant, Djibril initially asks her to have an abortion, fearing their relationship could escalate local gangland tensions. However, after unwittingly becoming an accessory to the murder of a friend, Djibril begins to believe that his unborn child possesses healing powers that will save him and his entire neighbourhood from a cataclysmic event that awaits.

An Ambiguous Storyline

Marlin’s inspiration for the storyline came from his own experiences as a child, but he also wanted to blur the line between reality and fantasy. “I was searching for this ambiguity…between strangeness and the marvellous,” he says. The film opens with a montage of archive black-and-white photos of Marseille’s underprivileged quarters, dating back forty to fifty years. The photos serve to anchor the film in reality, as Marlin wanted, even though it moves towards fantasy. Marseille is a city of immigration, and the film reflects this cultural diversity, with Marlin’s Armenian roots adding a personal touch.

An Amateur Cast and Collaborative Work

Like Shéhérazade, Salem features an amateur cast, with Dalil Abdourahim playing Djibril as a teenager, and Oumar Moindjie taking on the role of the adult Djibril. Other big-screen newcomers include Maryssa Bakoum as Djibril’s young girlfriend and Wallen El Gharbaoui as his daughter. Marlin spent ten months casting non-professional actors from across Marseille and another five months rehearsing and assigning roles. He wanted to ensure that the actors could carry the key roles, and that they could collaborate with him on the project. Marlin sees his work as a hybrid of both collaborative and artistic work, and this approach was one of the main challenges of the film. The connection and commitment he has with his cast members continue long after the film has been shot, and he does what he can to support them as they start their acting careers.

Salem is a co-production between French companies Unité and Vatos Locos with the support of France 2 Cinema. Ad Vitam has acquired French rights, and Goodfellas is handling international sales. Marlin is excited to present Salem at Cannes, and he is confident that it will be as well-received as Shéhérazade. He has created another masterpiece that blends fantasy and reality, taking viewers on a unique cinematic journey. The film explores the themes of fatherhood, transmission, and imagination, with a touch of magic and fantasy. Marlin’s work is a testament to his artistic vision and his ability to bring out the best in his amateur cast. Salem is a must-see film that will leave a lasting impression on audiences worldwide.

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