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Boris Lojkine L’Histoire de Souleymane

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The Story of Souleymane | 2024 Cannes Film Festival Review

The Story of Souleymane | 2024 Cannes Film Festival Review

Straightened Story: Lojkine’s Details Delivery App Woes to Application Process Lows

Standing on fertile creative ground, Boris Lojkine once again explores the narratives of individuals far removed from their comfort zones, miles away from the familiar landscapes. Following 2014’s Hope and 2019’s Camille, the French filmmaker once again puts the spotlight onto individual’s plight towards a better life. Representing thousands of undocumented, replaceable people in society’s plain view, L’Histoire de Souleymane (The Story of Souleymane) doesn’t ask if you know where your food comes from? but rather, imagines the extra weight of knowing that your last step in a long journey can easily be a misstep. Featuring a gripping performance by newcomer Abou Sangare, the film chronicles a relentless two-day journey of someone pushed to the brink. A heart-wrenching portrayal that despite its familiarity, resonates with raw intensity, it’s perhaps how something like The Bicycle Thieves might have looked like a half plus century into the future.

As Souleymane (Sangare) speed-cycles through the streets of Paris on his bicycle, he operates in multitask mode: simultaneously delivering meals for a food-delivery app service and rehearsing his story “version” once more. With his asylum application interview looming in just two days away—Souleymane realizes he is not going to be able to fib on this try. Unlike last year’s Io Capitano, where the Old Continent was just out of reach, Souleymane’s past, including his ailing mother, and a future marked by uncertainty—especially concerning his girlfriend, who faces even fewer options than her penniless boyfriend—weigh heavily on his mind. This pedal-to-the-metal drama leaves our protagonist in dire straits, especially when missing the last bus to his shelter becomes a sleepless night reality and when you don’t know who ordered the food you are carrying.

Fans of Dardenne cinema will find common links here with Lojkine and co-writer Delphine Agut’s (Inshallah A Boy) screenplay blueprint, however, this avoids misery porn trappings for what is not necessarily a hopeful, but a more truthful and accurate portrayal. Souleymane is well aware of the injustices that permeate all scales — this dog-eats-dog world only means he needs to be more persistent and he might get bruised in the process. As one source of much-needed income collapses, we witness the system crumbling before his eyes in a chain reaction that exposes the cracks of a society structured from top to bottom. The inner workings of the system are laid bare, revealing that immigrants also exploit the vulnerable. Among faceless individuals, there is a representation of a community comprising not only Guinean people but also others with similar stories, albeit perhaps speaking different dialects or praying to different gods.

Captured with nocturnal blues via cinematographer Tristan Galand, the hand-held aesthetic makes for an easily gripping realism that balances well when we return to a sequence where our hero’s fate is about to be pronounced – an extended eye-opening procedural simple question and complicated answer encounter sequence that might have been as tricky as walking into and out of the half dozen or so countries to get to France’s capital. The Story of Souleymane might just make you have a new appreciation for those charging away with those insulated, square delivery bagged bike with speedsters.

Reviewed on May 19th at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival – Un Certain Regard. 93 Mins.

★★★½/☆☆☆☆☆

Eric Lavallée is the founder, CEO, editor-in-chief, film journalist, and critic at IONCINEMA.com, established in 2000. A regular at Sundance, Cannes, and Venice, Eric holds a BFA in film studies from the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema. In 2013, he served on the narrative competition jury at the SXSW Film Festival. He was an associate producer on Mark Jackson’s "This Teacher" (2018 LA Film Festival, 2018 BFI London). In 2022, he was a New Flesh Juror for Best First Feature at the Fantasia International Film Festival. Current top films for 2023 include The Zone of Interest (Glazer), Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell (Pham Thien An), Totem (Lila Avilés), La Chimera (Alice Rohrwacher), All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt (Raven Jackson).

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