Dinner with Free Bullet
Paulina Pisarek: It came right after I finished shooting my film I Don’t Touch the Gold.
I was in the western part of Senegal, and after two months of shooting, I fell ill and dreamt of finding a quiet little island where I could rest and recuperate. On the way there, I met Boniface. He was one of the boat owners who took me to the Island. I didn’t have a plan; he gave me a bed to sleep in and I didn’t even know until the next day when I woke up that this guy was a catholic priest and that I was in a church…
I spent a month with Boniface on a beautiful animistic island. During that time we become very good friends and shared our feelings. Boniface took care of me and I listened to his story. We spent a lot of good time together going to the meetings of the priests in the Casamance region. We slept in many churches; I met the head priest in Ziguinchor and we also went to his family home several times. I very quickly learned what it means to be a priest there.
After that very intense time with Boniface and his story of rebellion, I returned to Paris, and, with Caroline, I started writing the script for the film. His interior conflict is a mirror (or metaphor) for the conflict in the region. At the beginning, we didn’t have a concrete story; it was more like a universal feeling of loneliness and claustrophobia, dreams, not satisfaction, desire, independence, freedom. Niomoune Island is hidden in a labyrinth of mangroves where you can get lost very quickly among the beautiful, young, animistic girls.
And of course Boniface is a handsome, sexy young priest full of contradictions…
Paulina Pisarek: In the movie, religion is a context for our character. Boniface’s religion makes him a foreigner on the island, that’s one thing. But it’s also important to know that in Casamance Catholicism is treated like a profession, and as a symbol of rebellion, education and business.
Religion brings you a heightened social status which allows you to travel to Europe, and people respect you. You’re like a hero, you have power.
Father Augustin Diamacoune Senghor was a priest who started a rebellion for Casamance’s independence from Senegal in 1981. The people of Casamance were afraid that Islamists would take over their rich agricultural region. The conflict led to a great many deaths. Eventually, on May 1, 2014, Salif Sadio, the leader of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance, held secret talks at the Vatican between his forces and the Senegalese government, led by Macky Sall.
Free bullet talks about desire and freedom. Religion is a symbol of their struggle because Boniface represents religion. One way of resolving the conflicts inside you is through mysticism, but that has nothing in common with religious mysticism. You begin searching, and you have illuminations which establish your freedom for a moment…
Caroline Detournay: Religion materializes exclusively as a straitjacket that Boniface wants to get free of, but we were absolutely in no way interested in rituals or religious symbols. The same is not true of his relationship to mysticism, which is more visible in his quest, since he tries to transcend his path in order to gain access to his consciousness.
Caroline Detournay: Free Bullet is a form of initiation on the path to freedom, or how a man who was a priest in West Africa must question his calling in order to open up to the world in a different way than through the prism of religion. It’s also about looking for the line between man as a social category and man against nature. He’s looking for the identity that belongs to him.
Paulina Pisarek: Saint Désir is the project we’re currently working on. It talks about the border between children, teenagers and adults. It’s a story about summer holidays in Normandy where a group of teenagers cruelly kill cows on farms… Mylène Guichoux of Aurora Films is producing the film. Right now, we’re looking for financing to begin shooting.
Paulina Pisarek: In Casamance they speak Diola.
Paulina Pisarek: On the island, you’re cut off from civilization, and from the noise of information. You’re forced to be alone with yourself. That can quickly lead to paranoia, or you start following only your own ideas which reflect who you are.
In Free Bullet, your character sometimes wears a mask. Why is he attached to that object?
Paulina Pisarek: Boniface is a bipolar character who hides behind many masks. It’s not easy to recognize him. In the movie, he wears that mask for a number of reasons. It protects his face from the cold wind when he hunts. But it also has a symbolic meaning. When you put the mask on, you’re hiding something, but you’re also exposing something else. When Boniface puts the mask on at the beginning of film, he turns his face to the left and right like the photo on a police record. Maybe he’s punishing himself for what he’s about to do. He looks face to face at someone completely different. The mask allows him to somehow magically push the boundaries of his own shame, which is his desire for women and his desire to kill. Boniface also hides his face under his vestment. That action is a form of penance and atonement for his past deeds (maybe the secret of his rebellion or the secret of his family). He wants most of all to be free from the past events that are infinitely malleable into all kinds suffering for others and for himself. It allows him an inner transformation. It’s imposible to see only one face without its mask.
Paulina Pisarek: He can’t talk about everything, since he works for the church. He’s a public figure and one of the consequences of talking about his private life could be rejection by the church. But also by his extended family. Boniface mother’s side is animistic, and it’s not easy for him to be a part of this world and keep the secret from his father’s family which is catholic. Boniface learned how to juggle this, keeping his contradictions intact…
Caroline Detournay: The tempo in Free bullet is like a bullet shot into the space of its desires at the speed of its emotions. Boniface follows a path, a direction, but above all his desire for freedom. The syncopated rhythm highlighted by the jerky, elliptical editing allowed us to push our character towards his decisions. Each scene is a step toward freeing his emotions. The most important thing is that there is no way to turn back: the film’s movement, tempo and dynamism lead the character down an irreversible path.
Caroline Detournay: Boniface manages to keep his duality hidden from those around him. This was something we ourselves saw, and then as we talked to him about his routines, his future, his hopes, his past, and most of all his desire to reach fulfillment. When we began to be on more intimate terms, we decided to include Boniface in developing the voice-over for his inner search. He gradually opened up to us about his doubts and concerns.
I wouldn’t say it was a contrast, but more like a nuance of those emotions that were more or less concealed from the inhabitants of Niomoune Island and from his family. Caught between what he lets us see and what he lives through, Boniface would like to open up. But he’s foremost a priest and his calling is stronger than anything else. The only way he can be free of it and get out of the straitjacket is to take flight into the desert, whose vastness allows him to gather and re-center himself. Boniface is searching for a place where he can be himself, a place where he can unfurl and exist.
Caroline Detournay: It’s not any kind of special festivity. The young girls use the church’s kitchen to perpare the oysters because it’s more convenient, and then there’s automatically something of a festive atmosphere.
Caroline Detournay: During scouting and filming, we participated in meetings among priests in other parishes around Niomoune Island. Boniface was there, but he stayed aloof because he had difficulty accepting some of the conditions imposed by the older priests, like the interminable meals over barrels of palm wine…
Paulina Pisarek: Boniface is very lonely on the island. God doesn’t exist and he has nobody to share his problems with. He is a stranger in a church that is in the middle of an island of animistic people. It’s like a jail and Boniface feels like a prisoner. He’s locked up within religion and his inner needs. He needs some way to let out his frustration…
Are you interested in the idea of showing the consequences of a priest’s apostasy in his own community, while remaining in his native village? And why did you choose to take another direction with Free Bullet?
Paulina Pisarek: We decided to show Boniface as a foreigner in Africa after his isolation on the island. His extreme journey from Catholicism to Islam exposes his desire. We chose the Mauritanian desert because of the issue of slavery as well, which is a very well-established tradition. In 1981, Mauritania became the last country in the world to officially abolish slavery, and it was done through presidential decree. In reality, however, there are no criminal provisions to enforce the ban. This confrontation allows Boniface not to fear who he is.
Caroline Detournay: Boniface never thought about giving up his vocation. He’s trying to understand what’s happening to him, and especially to fight his desires… This time, he chooses to escape, but he’ll soon be caught by the religious authorities.
Paulina Pisarek: This film is too short for us to discuss everything we wanted… so we had to sublimate the character.
Caroline Detournay: Yes, short films provide a way of asking and developing questions. They’re the best way of progressing step by step towards an understanding, or rather investigation, of human relations.
Free Bullet was either produced, co-produced or self-financed with French funds. Did you write the film with this “French” aspect in mind: making movie references, building a specific context (in a particular region, for example) or inserting characteristically French notions?
Paulina Pisarek: I’ve never thought about the French context. It’s a personal story for me, where I’m searching for humanistic terms. It was produced by Le GREC in France and we’re very happy they gave us the freedom to make the movie.