Saturday, June 22, 2024

“THE STORY OF SOULEYMANE”

THE STORY – Souleymane is in a race against the clock to get his immigration status sorted out.

THE CAST – Abou Sangare, Nina Meurisse & Alpha Oumar Sow

THE TEAM – Boris Lojkine (Director/Writer) & Delphine Agut (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 93 Minutes


“I thought it would be easier to shoot in Paris, but I was wrong,” said Boris Lojkine as he unveiled his third fiction feature film, “The Story of Souleymane,” at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won two prizes in the Un Certain Regard section (Best Performance and the Jury Prize) as well as the FIPRESCI Prize, voted for by a jury of international critics (full disclosure: this writer was one of them). The director, who was born in the French capital, was only half-jokingly comparing the experience to that of his first two films, both dealing with African stories and filmed on the continent. In fact, while his second feature, “Camille” (the only one of his fiction films so far to skip Cannes, premiering instead in Locarno where it won the Audience Award) is about a Frenchwoman in the Central African Republic, “The Story of Souleymane” reverses the situation by bringing a young man from Africa to France. Fittingly, Nina Meurisse, who stars in “Camille,” also has a small but pivotal role in this film.

Souleymane, played by Abou Sangare, has recently immigrated from Guinea and is waiting for the interview that, if successful, will allow him to live and work in France legally. To prepare for this momentous occasion, he’s been paying a man named Barry (Alpha Oumar Sow) to supply him with all the fake documents needed to sell the story of hardship that is more likely to win over the authorities. As he struggles to memorize all the details of his bogus biography, Souleymane spends his nights in a homeless shelter just outside Paris and his days working as a bike courier for a food delivery company. Except, it’s not really him on the app: He’s using a friend’s profile to try to make ends meet since Barry’s services aren’t free, and Souleymane’s current immigration status makes him ineligible to work in France. As the day approaches, things get increasingly tense as the young man still doesn’t quite have his story memorized, and the money he needs for the final transaction is not where it’s supposed to be.

Lojkine comes from a documentary background, having started with non-fiction while living in Vietnam after first studying and then teaching Philosophy in France. His eye for reality hasn’t left him, even as he transitioned to fiction filmmaking. “Camille,” for example, is rooted in true events, namely the life of photojournalist Camille Lepage, and for “The Story of Souleymane,” there is also an effort to be as accurate as possible. The screenplay is based on interactions Lojkine and his casting director had with real Guinean immigrants while looking into the food delivery storyline, and the casting of Abou Sangare, a non-professional actor, also came about as a result of this research; the interview that’s the source of most of the dramatic tension is also inspired by observations of real conversations at the offices of OFPRA (the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons).

The handheld camera never takes a break from following Sangare and capturing even the smallest emotional nuance on his face, with an added urgency during the delivery scenes, which is achieved by having a cameraman on a bike alongside the protagonist. Eschewing all typical depictions of Paris, Lojkine shows the French capital for what it is in the context of countless migrants’ lives: An endless series of crossings and roundabouts to get from one spot to the next in the hope of making enough money to survive just one more day. And while Souleymane prepares to tell a made-up story, the real one unfolding before our eyes becomes more thrilling with each passing minute, only occasionally slowing down for the less enthralling moments when the main character makes phone calls to family and friends in Guinea, keeping the viewer hanging as we wait for him to once again get on that bike and experience Paris like we’ve rarely seen it on the screen.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Abou Sangare delivers a compelling performance that roots the film in a harsh, yet riveting reality, expertly captured by Boris Lojkine’s documentary-like approach.

THE BAD - The scenes devoted to the people Souleymane left behind lack the dramatic urgency of the rest of the film.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - Best International Feature

THE FINAL SCORE - 8/10

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Latest Reviews

<b>THE GOOD - </b>Abou Sangare delivers a compelling performance that roots the film in a harsh, yet riveting reality, expertly captured by Boris Lojkine’s documentary-like approach.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The scenes devoted to the people Souleymane left behind lack the dramatic urgency of the rest of the film.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b><a href="/oscar-predictions-best-international-feature/">Best International Feature</a><br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>8/10<br><br>"THE STORY OF SOULEYMANE"