Cannes 2024 Review: A Refugee Courier Seeks Deliverance in Boris Lojkine’s Moving “L’Historie de Souleymane”

The world is filled with traps for Soleymane (Abou Sangare) in “L’Historie de Soleymane (Soleymane’s Story),” who strenuously avoids them in the streets of Paris where he works as a courier, but unable to sidestep them as he seeks asylum from his original home in Guinea-Conakry. Citizenship is no guarantee under any circumstances, but director Boris Lojkine throws his lead character a particularly brutal curve when what looks like the path of least resistance, which is to claim to be a political dissident when it’s more acceptable as a purpose immigration to the French government, becomes fraught with peril when that simply isn’t what happened to Soleymane, whose journey to the north was no less necessary yet unlikely to be recognized as such under the letter of the current laws.

However, well before that becomes the central issue in “L’Historie de Soleymane,” Lojkine and co-writer Delphine Agut compellingly raise a number of others in the 48 hours leading up to the refugee’s interview with authorities. The two outline a whole cottage industry that has sprung up underground to help the undocumented attain citizenship, but are apt to exploit when they are as desperate to survive in the country financially as the people they assist. Although Soleymane’s situation is hardly enviable, he is asked all the time by others to hook him up with Emmanuel (Emmanuel Yovanie), a Cameroonian who has an account to work in online food delivery that those without citizenship can’t legally apply for and has found a small business lending the account out in return for a cut of the fees from racing around town. Likewise, Soleymane has also had to rely on the guidance of Barry (Alpha Omar Sow), who has found a steady income coaching African refugees to tell their saddest stories to immigration officials, suggesting painful details to add should their own experience not sound awful enough.

Whatever happened in their life prior to France can be assumed to be unfathomable when putting up with the hell they have to endure awaiting acceptance in the country and while “L’Historie de Soleymane” holds back what really pushed Soleymane to leave Guinea, the courier tortures himself to remember the testimony that he’s worked on with Barry as he does the punishing work of bringing people their take out, dodging cars and absorbing the anger of those who blame them for the long wait when it’s the kitchen that takes their time. Lojkine is careful to show that the world is not an entirely unsympathetic one when Soleymane can be gifted with a coffee on the house at one of the restaurants he picks up from and there are glimpses of a social safety net at the shelter he stays at or a volunteer breadline he makes use of. Yet the amount of responsibility placed on him to navigate bureaucratic systems that must be bewildering even to those that work inside of them can be crushing and the full weight of it can be felt for as light on his feet as Soleymane can be, with cinematographer Tristan Garland energetically matching the main character step for step as he moves through the metropolitan labyrinth.

In his screen debut, Sangare is engaging throughout as Soleymane attempts to keep calm under increasing pressure to come up with the cash to pay Barry for his services while having to placate Emmanuel after jeopardizing his scheme, but he really delivers when the third act calls for it as the character is caught between what he feels he should say and what he wants to say. Although “L’Historie de Soleymane” presents such frustrations regularly, it has none of its own in this regard, detailing an unconscionable situation with no obvious remedy other than empathy, which the film has no shortage of.

“L’Histore de Souleymane” will screen again at the Cannes Film Festival as part of Un Certain Regard on May 20th at 7:15 pm at Cineum Salle 3, May 21st at 2:15 pm at Cineum Screen X, May 22nd at 7:30 pm at Cineum Imax and May 23rd at 6:45 pm at Cineum Salle 3.

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