Salem, Jean-Bernard Marlin’s vision

The latest director vying for the Un Certain Regard Prize, Jean-Bernard Marlin presents Salem, his second feature film, five years after the acclaimed Shéhérazade. While remaining in Marseille, this time the director explores the fantastic and shows us another side of this city through the star-crossed love story of Djibril and Camilla. He’s a Comorian, she’s a gypsy, and each come from rival neighbourhoods.

What gave you the idea for this film?

In Marseille, where Salem takes place, everyone has different origins. It’s really a place of migrations with multiple ways of living. My mother is of Armenian origin. I had a gypsy uncle. My father was French but he lived in a caravan for a long time, and that’s why the motif of the caravan recurs a lot in the film.

How did you work on this film?

I storyboarded everything for two or three months to have a clear vision of the directing. The camera is fixed most of the time. We are, on the one had, close to the characters while respecting a certain classicism, and, on the other had, we can see experimental visual aspects, like dreams. As with the original music, the watchword for the images was to be a trippy film. That’s what interests me the most: giving free reign to the unconscious, being able to call everything into question at the moment of shooting, on the set. I wanted to film to be a sensory experience for the main character as for the spectator, for everyone to have visions.

What were your influences?

I love tragedies, Shakespearean ones especially. That’s clearly one of my main influences. The beginning of the film is consciously constructed as a modern version of Romeo and Juliet. In tragedy, fatality weighs on the characters from the beginning to the end. Djibril is someone stamped with a fatal “flaw”: he sees the world differently than all the others. This leads him to have unpredictable and irrational reactions, which are thus sometimes perceived as dangerous.

What can you tell us about your actors?

We had an open casting that lasted ten months. This film is a first for each actor. The common point that these young people and non-professional actors all have is that, like my characters, they all live in the present moment. It’s a present that is not always easy. Dalil Abdourahim andMaryssa Bakoum are confronted, like their characters Djibril and Camilla, with social and family situations that are sometimes difficult. They’re teens who give off the impression as well of being very mature, and where something of childhood remains.

What would you like people to take away from your film?

Passing something along is the only ideal that comes to mind. Passing something along is the term I used to speak about my film to my team, it was the most important thing for me to remind myself of what I wanted to do. What are we passing on to our children when we have psychological troubles? Can we inoculate one’s madness, one’s delirium? That interests me. In Salem, the illness, mental, physical, or the belief in an invisible world, is passed on from father to son, as though it were a virus.