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One-on-one with Boris Lojkine: Bringing "L’Histoire de Souleymane" to Life

Boris Lojkine’s latest film, "L’Histoire de Souleymane," has garnered critical acclaim and significant accolades at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival, including the Best Actor award and the Jury's Prize in the Un Certain Regard category. The film, set in the bustling streets of Paris, follows Souleymane, a bicycle courier facing an impending asylum application interview that could change his life. Lojkine, known for his immersive storytelling and social commentary, dives deep into the world of undocumented workers, exploring themes of survival, identity, and resilience.

Congratulations on the success of "L’Histoire de Souleymane." What inspired you to create this film?

Boris Lojkine: Thank you. The inspiration for "L’Histoire de Souleymane" came from observing the lives of bicycle couriers in Paris. These individuals, often undocumented, are highly visible yet live clandestine lives. I wanted to explore their stories and the broader social issues they face. The idea crystallized when I noticed the rise of app-based delivery services and the anonymity of the workers behind them. Their struggle for recognition and legitimacy seemed like a powerful narrative worth telling.

Can you tell us more about the protagonist, Souleymane, and his journey?

Boris Lojkine: Souleymane is a complex character. He's an undocumented immigrant from Guinea who pedals through Paris delivering meals while awaiting an asylum interview that could grant him legal status. The film is set over the two days leading up to this interview, capturing his relentless hustle and the systemic challenges he faces. Souleymane's journey is emblematic of many asylum seekers who live in constant uncertainty, trying to survive while holding onto hope for a better future.

What was your approach to writing the script, especially given the documentary foundation you mentioned?

Boris Lojkine: The script was rooted in extensive research and real-life stories. With Aline Dalbis, we conducted numerous interviews with food delivery workers to understand their daily lives and struggles. Their stories about scams, accommodation issues, and the asylum process heavily influenced the narrative. The script evolved to reflect their realities, blending elements of a thriller with social commentary. This approach helped us create a film that is both fast-paced and deeply human.

The casting process for this film was unique. How did you find Abou Sangare and the other non-professional actors?

Boris Lojkine: Casting non-professional actors was a deliberate choice to bring authenticity to the film. We did extensive street casting, especially within the Guinean community. We met Abou Sangare in Amiens through an association. His presence and intensity immediately struck us. Despite having no acting experience, he embodied Souleymane perfectly. We spent months rehearsing, allowing the actors to immerse themselves in their roles and adapting the script to their natural ways of speaking and interacting.

The film’s portrayal of Paris is unique, almost like a foreign city. How did you achieve this perspective?

Boris Lojkine: I wanted to show Paris from the perspective of someone who feels like an outsider. We filmed in various locations, from suburban housing projects to the heart of the city, capturing its vibrancy and chaos. By keeping the crew small and the equipment light, we were able to blend into the city’s natural flow, giving the film a documentary-like authenticity. This approach helped us convey the constant sense of danger and urgency that Souleymane experiences.

The final interview scene is particularly intense. How did you prepare for and execute this pivotal moment?

Boris Lojkine: The asylum interview scene was crucial for the film’s emotional climax. We drew from real-life accounts of asylum interviews and had the opportunity to attend some interviews at the Ofpra. Nina Meurisse, who plays the protection officer, brought a nuanced performance, balancing empathy with the institutional rigidity she represents. The scene was meticulously rehearsed and rewritten to incorporate elements of Sangare’s own experiences. This authenticity added to the emotional weight of the scene, making it a powerful conclusion to Souleymane’s story.

The film is noted for its lack of music, relying instead on the city’s soundscape. What was the reasoning behind this choice?

Boris Lojkine: The decision to exclude music was to enhance the realism and immerse the audience in Souleymane’s world. The natural sounds of the city – traffic, sirens, conversations – create a visceral atmosphere that heightens the tension and immediacy of his journey. This choice demanded a more radical approach to editing, ensuring that every moment drives the narrative forward without relying on musical cues to evoke emotion.

What message do you hope audiences take away from "L’Histoire de Souleymane"?

Boris Lojkine: I hope the film sheds light on the plight of undocumented workers and the harsh realities they face. It’s a story about resilience, the struggle for dignity, and the quest for belonging. I want audiences to empathize with Souleymane’s journey and reflect on the broader social and political issues surrounding immigration and asylum. Ultimately, it’s about recognizing our shared humanity and the complexities of moral choices in an unjust system.

What are your future projects and aspirations as a filmmaker?

Boris Lojkine: I’m currently developing several projects that continue to explore social issues and human stories. I’m interested in narratives that challenge perceptions and provoke thought. My goal is to keep telling stories that matter, bringing underrepresented voices to the forefront and fostering a deeper understanding of our world.

Any final thoughts for our readers?

Boris Lojkine: I encourage everyone to engage with stories that challenge their perspectives and to be open to the experiences of others. Cinema has the power to bridge divides and create empathy, and I hope "L’Histoire de Souleymane" contributes to that mission. Thank you for your support and for being part of these important conversations.


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