“I can be stupid sometimes, but I am much more than that”. With his back bent under his makeshift shelter, Chris Ames stirs his coffee with the handle of a toothbrush. A little moment of comfort in the cold winter of Rennes. That night, the thermometer will flirt with 0 degrees in the Breton capital. A bit more in the tent of this homeless person installed under the Laënnec bridge. Aged 61, this Franco-American is not a homeless person like the others. Because he “chose” to live outside. Besides, Chris does not like to say that he is on the street. “I’m not on the street, I live under a bridge. It’s a choice. It’s my permanent home,” he explains in his American accent. He then busied himself decorating a Christmas tree which stood proudly in the middle of his fragile camp set up on the banks of the Vilaine, a stone’s throw from the city center of Rennes.
All these images are taken from the documentary Under the Laennec bridge, which will be broadcast from this Thursday on the local channel TVR. Directed by David Morvan and Erwan Le Guillermic, this fifty-two minute film depicts the sensitive portrait of this homeless person “not like the others”. “Chris is a UFO in the street world where most guys are addicted to alcohol or drugs. We often think that a guy who lives on the street has problems or that he has had them. Him, this is not the case, he chose to be there, ”sums up David Morvan. In the documentary, Chris explains that he “tolerates street people”, but clarifies that he is “not very friendly with them”.
“He was happy that we were talking about him”
The man arrived there in 2020, just before France confined itself. He settled under the Laënnec bridge “by chance” after the death of a homeless man who survived there. Sheltered from the rain, the Franco-American poet has not moved since. It was in the fall of 2020 that he crossed paths with Erwan Le Guillermic. The Rennes director, who lives right next door, then takes advantage of his perimeter of a kilometer of walk imposed by the health crisis to get to know his new neighbor. “He told me about his life before, his passion for poetry. When we met him, it was when he had just arrived in Rennes to be closer to his son. He immediately accepted the idea of the film, he was happy that people were talking about him,” explains the director from Rennes.
Passionate about writing, the homeless man used to hitchhike to Paris to sell his collections of poems in the metro. A small income that complements the RSA he receives each month and is enough to satisfy him. For Chris, living on the streets is the price to pay to have his freedom. “If I want an apartment, I have to work. I did it for twelve years with my wife and my children in Paris,” he recalls. “It’s a film that questions precisely this freedom. He chose to live outside but this has consequences for his family. He doesn’t see himself as a victim at all, he has a very strong appetite for life,” explains Erwan Le Guillermic.
After his separation, the Franco-American had settled in a tent in an abandoned golf course in the Paris region. He chose to come to Rennes to find his son. In the documentary, we see the two men meet for a candlelit dinner under the bridge that spans the Vilaine. “My father traveled all the time, that doesn’t shock me,” explains the young man.
Settled in Paris, Chris’ daughter is more bitter, believing that her father’s choice prevents her from seeing him more. This choice to live outside could also end for his father. Suffering from loneliness, Chris Ames would like to find the love and warmth of a home. “But the women don’t like coming to the tent, they don’t feel safe. If I want to find someone, I have to be normal,” he recalls. The poet, who has seen several of his texts be published in a collection a few months ago, just left for a solitary trip to Saudi Arabia. A way to spend the warm winter before returning to Rennes in the spring. According to the directors, Chris could then apply for housing.