In her first feature film presented in Cannes at Acid, the independent film program, photographer Fanny Molins immerses herself in the daily life of a small bar in Arles about to close. Somewhere between Raymond Depardon, Frederick Wiseman and Charles Bukowski. But how did she find herself there? Meet.
Thus ends twelve days of a festival parade made up of shadows screwed on their phones, overexcited Tik Tokers, jaded journalists, timed appointments, facade smiles, sweaty and even sticky handshakes, feet tired, small humiliations, mountains of profiteroles, cascades of champagne and pools of rosé. Like that, in a hooligan cry. “Three, two, one…Aaaaaah! », howls Ruben Östlund, a few seconds after having received the Palme d’or for his film Triangle of Sadness, the story of a couple of models and prophets on the Internet, embarked on a luxury cruise in the company of oligarchs, sellers weapons and other disillusioned super rich. One could qualify the film as a long nihilistic, mocking and bourgeois sneer, but it is above all a falsely subversive and cynical gesture. Calibrated to triumph in Cannes, in short. During the presentation of the official selection, Thierry Frémaux evoked a “great general mockery of what we have become”, without anyone understanding what he meant by “us”, exactly…
At the other end of the Cannes spectrum was projected a small film with the opposite movement – either sincere, delicate and first degree: Atlantic Bar, directed by Fanny Molins. A documentary in the form of a dive into the daily life of a drinking establishment in the south of France, a first project screened at Acid, the program for independent filmmakers. The team was happy to climb the stairs, because it does not happen every day and because it is not given to everyone. Where Östlund takes pleasure in humiliating his characters, satisfied with dehumanizing them and reducing them to nothing, Molins shows the dignity of sometimes dehumanized beings. Where the Swedish filmmaker, already webbed in 2017 with The Square, screams on stage, fires red bullets with his big clogs, the 30-year-old speaks in a calm voice, corrects herself when she judges her imprecise words and interrupts herself sorry to having too often repeated “suddenly”, seeming slightly overwhelmed to be in Cannes to talk about her obsession for this bar that she knows so well… But besides, why was she so interested in a little cafe in the south of France?
The story begins three years ago. During the Rencontres d’Arles, the aspiring photographer follows a free-themed workshop. Here she is going through a binder listing the good places in the city. What to tell? Without really knowing why, she stops at the Atlantic Bar – one summer, she did well as a bartender, but then could not formulate what attracts her to lives broken by zinc. In the directory, she finds the number of the roadstead. She calls, but no one answers. “I learned later that they had not paid their telephone bill and that their line had been cut. On the spot, his photographer’s brain starts to work. His eye sees the raking light, the red of the tiles and the counter, the old-fashioned and timeless yellow. “Immediately, I was made room. “Parisian photographers like her, Nathlie and Jean-Jacques, the bosses, have seen a lot of them go by… No big deal, Fanny Molins settles down, discusses, learns to play Rummy, first without her camera, then with it. Two hours of playing cards, two hours of photos in silence… After a week of observation, she invites her subjects to the exhibition of her series. A bond was born. The case could have ended there. But the young woman returned behind the counter again and again. Why ?
Each time she goes to Arles, Fanny Molins returns to the Atlantic. Without a device, without a specific goal. From one round trip to another, an intimate relationship is soon formed with Nathalie and Jean-Jacques. The idea of a film takes shape around the disappearance of these drinking establishments, with the desire to individualize these regulars who are sometimes referred to collectively as bar pillars. She wants to talk about them without talking about their alcoholism. “Which is nice,” she said, amused by her Puritan reflex.
It revolves around its subject, first focusing on Sandro, the 17-year-old son, to tell the dreams and desires of this young man with life ahead of him, and put them in confrontation with the dreams and desires of those who look older than their age and who have their lives behind them. “But I made an amalgam between “dream” and “desire”, she says sorry, I had a somewhat bourgeois projection of the definition of the word “dream”. »
Above all, over these three years, she slowly becomes aware of what constantly brings her back to bars: she grew up with the mood of alcoholism somewhere among her relatives. This is where her obsession comes from, why she seeks to shift her gaze to alcohol, in contact with those who talk about it without taboos and answer the healthy question she seeks to answer: do we drink to remember to his wishes?
On the set, his camera navigates between the regulars, filmed in close-up, with their banter and their faces as exits from Verneuil’s films. Humanism between Frederick Wiseman and Raymond Depardon, she films them without overhang, nor complacency. Matter of respect. One replays an old robbery or explains how he cheats at cards with his tattoos on his fingers while another writes poems supposedly copied on Google and confides that he enjoys being taken for an idiot by others, because that is his way of existing. During filming, the bar is put up for sale, but in the end there is little question of it. “Nobody tells them who is buying and they have to manage to understand, continues Molins. We theorize the phenomenon of gentrification, but they are not scholars, it is something they experience, not something they talk about. Jean-Jacques sings, Sandro celebrates his birthday and Nathalie confides with lucidity about her alcoholism. Several times, the landlady challenges the filmmaker, who never appears on screen. “You don’t understand, I’m going to explain something to you. “From these hours of conversation, she drew “saving” conversations: “When we seek an intensity of life, we want to go to the limits of life, she says. There is something quite deadly in there, but which I find beautiful. »
Fanny Molins is surprised that journalists talk to her about modesty, or note the absence of voyeurism in her film. Of course, she had been warned: be careful not to fall into the Strip-Tease episode, beware of the “fair” or the “social zoo”. “I don’t know what to think about it,” she says. It implies embarrassment, but I don’t see how you can rationally avoid voyeurism. The approach I have is part of a friendly relationship, it’s a naive bet. “The proof that cinema can also be a matter of sincerity, even during a festival…
Atlantic Bar by Fanny Molins, in theaters soon.
Author: Michael Zippo
Sources: VanityFair, IO Donna