- CANNES 2023: Interweaving many genres, Jean-Bernard Marlin delivers a highly ambitious and imperfectly accomplished film about the tragic reality of life in Marseille's most deprived neighbourhoods
"The invisible world wants to talk to you. Listen to it". According to Salem, Jean-Bernard Marlin’s second feature film (who made his name on the Croisette in 2018 with Shéhérazade [+see also:
film profile]), unveiled as part of the Un Certain Regard programme at the 76th Cannes Film Festival it would take a miracle to save the youth of Marseille's poorest neighbourhoods, which are gang-ridden and trapped in a cycle of hatred and vendettas between rival gangs where guns spread death in their path. Place in the middle of it all a Comorian Romeo and a Roma Juliet, sprinkle a heady mix of faith and madness doped up with mysticism and flashes of the fantastic, and shake the whole thing up with an atmosphere on the borderline between ambient realistic madness and nightmarish onirism, and you get a film that's totally out of the ordinary on the subject of social unrest and its consequences, but still struggles to tame the bubbling of its many and often very good ingredients.
Djibril (Dalil Abdourahim), 14, doesn't know it, but an odyssey in search of security for his life and that of his loved ones awaits him when the young Comorian from the Sauterelles neighbourhood agrees, on the orders of local boss “Chat Noir” (Black Cat) (Amal Issihaka Hali), to organise a meeting outside the school that will turn into a deadly ambush for one of his friends from the rival Grillons neighbourhood. Djibril is in a state of in-between, still in the hopeful spontaneity of adolescence, and he loves a Roma girl called Camilla (Marysa Bakoum), who tells him she is pregnant. But it's a ghost and a prophecy of doom that Djibril inherits, weighed down by the burden of having to keep his mouth shut so as not to denounce the culprits (who are keeping a close eye on him). And one thing soon leads to another in the spiral of violence and hostility between different communities that refuse to engage in dialogue, and he soon finds himself guilty of murder, a crime that will earn him 12 years in prison. When he gets out, the same problems await him, but one thing has changed profoundly for Djibril (Oumar Moindje): he is convinced that his daughter (Wallenn El Gharboui) is going to save the world, and he wants to pass on to her the gift of healing that he has discovered for himself. All that remains, however, is to convince her, which is no easy task (especially as they don't know each other at all), and to survive in the very dangerous and ruthless local criminal climate...
A blend of romantic naturalist fresco and fantasy (embodied by golden cicadas), Salem is bathed in an atmosphere of immersive visual strangeness, amplified by a score designed to plunge the viewer into a trip that mirrors the protagonist's psychic troubles, all interspersed with gunfire and tales of friendship and love complicated by the weight of the environment. The film makes its way through this chaos with great audacity, but also with a kind of confusion that mirrors Djibril's visions. Salem sometimes even feels like the acid-fuelled child of Jacques Audiard's A Prophet [+see also:
interview: Jacques Audiard
interview: Jacques Audiard and Tahar R…
film profile] in Karim Dridi's Khamsa [+see also:
film profile] style. It's a bizarre combination with many singular qualities, but its vast, nebulous ambition has obviously escaped its creator, though this will certainly not detract from its potential for fascination.
Salem was produced by Unité and Vatos Locos Productions, and co-produced by France 2 Cinéma. Goodfellas handles international sales.
(Translated from French by Margaux Comte)
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