The Story of Souleymane


Reviewed by: Nikola Jovic

The Story Of Souleymane
"There is a feeling of being in a constant movement, with cars and buildings wizzing by as Souleymane is rushing through the city, either riding his bike, or running from one type of public transport to the next." | Photo: Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Boris Lojkine returns with his latest film dealing with the troubles of people from central Africa, only this time, following what happens to them once they get to mainland Europe. The Story of Souleymane has its international premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, where it’s a part of the official selection within the Un Certain Regard programme.

It opens on a shot of a tired black young man (Abou Sangare), with some visible injuries to his face, as he’s waiting in line, blending into the sea of other people around him, out of focus. While he's waiting to be summoned for his asylum application interview, he notices a smudge of blood on his sleeve and is trying to rub it off, as he wants to give off his best impression during the interview. His name is Souleymane, and as he’s heading in, the film fades to black and we get to see what his life was like, on the streets of Paris, days before the interview itself.

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Souleymane works as a fast-food delivery courier on a bike, in a service similar to Uber Eats. A job he procured by hatching a deal with a different man to use his account in exchange for a half of his earnings, since Souleymane can’t get a job without first getting his legal status in order. To that end, he has joined the Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UDFG for short), who have helped other Guinean immigrants in the past, but although they’re helping Souleymane by preparing him for the interview, they’re also pressuring him for money. As he’s pedaling through the streets, Souleymane is constantly listening to the recording of the exact account of his life he’s supposed to give out during the interview, with very specific dates of when he was arrested, or when was his house demolished, but we get the sense that there is a different story from Souleymane’s life he’s burying, and that isn’t as preferable to say during his asylum application interview.

Although we’re talking about two different films here, the name of Lojkine’s previous film gives us the exact one-word description of his latest film as well: Hope. Souleymane is a young man out of his depth, with mind-boggling bureaucracy and alienation imposing an emotional and physical heft on his wellbeing, but his hope is never in question because, after leaving everything behind in Guinea, hope is all he’s got. Here, hope is not an end in and of itself, nor is it something gratifying — here, hope is a propellant.

There is a feeling of being in a constant movement, with cars and buildings wizzing by as Souleymane is rushing through the city, either riding his bike, or running from one type of public transport to the next. In a lot of these scenarios, the so-called “City of Love” is rendered as either a mere blur, or a threat. Most interactions Souleymane has with people who aren’t in a similar predicament like himself, are almost exclusively transactional, and in some way either mediated by a food delivery app or a government authority, besieging him into an alienating corner, although, never indulging in misery. Aside from detailed procedural following small minutae of being an undocumented immigrant seeking asylum status, this film’s saving grace is exactly that it isn’t pulling on your heartstrings either by being melodramatic or reveling in misery.

However, its shortcomings perhaps have little to do with the film itself. In a Europe that’s ostensibly shifting its focus towards new ongoing wars and turmoils, a story like this seems like treading the same water. This marks Lojkine’s third film dealing in some way with the political turmoils in central Africa, but by staging the story in France and making it about seeking an asylum status and gig-economy, intentionally or not, Lojkine perhaps does the subject matter a disservice by making it seem common or already seen. Although its cinematic naturalism and restraint in dealing with an all too familiar (but non the less important) subject make for some of the best qualities of the film, at the same time, they make it blend into the sea of very similar films about the subject from the past ten years.

Reviewed on: 23 May 2024
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Two days in the life of a bike delivery guy who is trying to get asylum.

Director: Boris Lojkine

Writer: Boris Lojkine, Delphine Agut

Starring: Abou Sangare, Nina Meurisse, Alpha Oumar Sow Emmanuel Yovanie, Younoussa Diallo

Year: 2024

Runtime: 94 minutes

Country: France

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