Paul & Boba: A Love Story under the Siege

Paul in Sarajevo, 1993 (Boba’s personal archive)

Do not shoot. Waste your bullets. I’m immortal.

During the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), families across the world sat down every evening to watch scenes of besieged Sarajevo from their living rooms. What the viewers didn’t see amidst the footage of horror and destruction is how the Siege of Sarajevo could also result in a love story like that of war radio reporter Paul Marchand and journalist and marketing expert Slobodanka (Boba) Lizdek. Their love grew unexpectedly, developing deeper throughout the war in Bosnia and beyond. And it exists, even to this day.

The first time she met him, Boba never thought that this man would mark her life forever. “He had specific mannerisms that, as I later found out, he picked up in Beirut. I first thought he was a Bosnian who just spoke good French. And I was not at all impressed.” Paul tried talking to Boba several times but was completely ignored. After a while, they went on an assignment together. “The first thing I told him when I realized I was going on an assignment with him was: Oh, horrible. It’s you,” Boba says with a smile remembering the time they met.

Even during their first date in Sarajevo, Boba tried to push Paul away by talking about random, weird things. “I decided to just talk of silly things so that he would think I was dumb and leave. But the more I spoke, the more I noticed how fascinated he was with everything I said. I thought to myself: I won’t be able to run away from this one.” And one day, while they were in the iconic Holiday Inn hotel in Sarajevo, Boba started to feel the same. Their love grew over the years and, even though they did not live in the same country following the war, they always stayed connected.

At the time when they met in Sarajevo, Paul was in his thirties and Siege of Sarajevo was his biggest reporting assignment after Lebanon and Beirut. For many people in Sarajevo, Paul is remembered by his daredevil behavior, driving through the streets in a beat-up Ford Sierra with “Do not shoot. Waste your bullets. I’m immortal.” written on its bonnet. However, Boba believes that his eccentric behavior was just his way of hiding the real, soft, and modest side of himself from other people.

Paul’s Ford Sierra as shown in the movie, 2018 (Boba’s personal archive)
Paul’s Ford Sierra as shown in the movie, 2018 (Boba’s personal archive)

“I don’t think many people knew the real Paul. He liked people of Sarajevo and tried to help them in many ways, but he still wanted to keep his distance from them so as not to reveal his true self. People who really knew him would never call him an ‘adrenaline junkie’ or a ‘weirdo’, but they remember him as I do: a sweet and loving man who enjoyed life.”

This helping side of Paul and his reporting is revealed in the new film, Sympathy for the Devil, shot on the streets of Sarajevo in winter 2018. The movie, directed by Guillaume de Fontenay was filmed after Paul’s book with the same name published in 1997. The upcoming movie will showcase Paul as he was remembered by people in Sarajevo—a hard-working war reporter whose documentation told the world of the tragedy unfolding in this city and whose commitment to helping people trapped under the siege will never be forgotten. After writing his book, Paul showed it to Boba and that is when the idea for the movie came about. “Paul met with Guillaume and Guillaume’s first idea was to make the book into a play in which Paul would narrate his war experiences. Later was decided that the book would be best visualized as a movie.” However, movie production was stalled due to various challenges, including those of funding and location permits, and the final movie production started in 2012, but this time without Paul.

Paul was severely wounded in Sarajevo, which prevented him from continuing his work as a war reporter. He almost completely lost the ability to move his arm and this is an event that marked the rest of Paul’s life. After numerous operations, he settled in Montreal and later in Paris but never truly felt the same. “I believe his pride stopped him from going on new missions. After many years of therapy, he was able to work with his arm, but he still considered himself crippled and decided to end his reporting career,” Boba notes.

Tragically, in 2009 Paul made the decision to end his own life. “We were two opposite sides of one heart. I was the light and he was the darkness. He was drawn to death and that is why he came to Sarajevo. I was thrown into the war, but he came here willingly. Paul always flirted with death and, while in Sarajevo, he talked a lot about how if a person cannot live the life they deserve, they should end their life.” Sympathy for the Devil will show both Paul’s emotional and aggressive sides. “He deeply cared about people of Sarajevo and the war crimes that were happening in the city. That is why his radio reports were sometimes ‘too much’, even for his editor.” The editor of Radio France who was working with Paul told him several times that it was difficult to play such brutal recordings in the morning news. But Paul didn’t give up, as he wanted to shock the world and show the real picture of suffering that occurred under the siege. “You will hear the actor reading these reports in the movie. They will shock you even today.” Sympathy for the Devil is a story of love, dedication, hardship, and perseverance of one brave young man, and, as noted by Boba: “shows the absurdity of war, presents one daring, kind heart and serves as an homage to our undying love.”

The movie itself was filmed on the streets of Sarajevo and director’s primary aim was to authentically showcase the siege and living conditions in the early 1990s. “Filming lasted for 34 very intense days and nights. We filmed in Holiday Inn in Paul’s hotel room and the TV building and everything was kept very authentic… I believe it’s important for young generations to see the movie and to realize what took place here and how Sarajevo suffered. And to never again consider the possibility of war.”

Sympathy for the Devil was released in 2019 – 10 years after Paul’s death and 27 years after Paul and Boba met and fell in love.

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This article was initially published within the Bosnian edition of ASBO Magazine in 2019. ASBO Magazine is an independent publication created by the D Foundation as an extension of its mission to unearth and showcase fresh talent. The magazine aims to showcase the artistic talents and potential of Bosnians and Herzegovinians in an effort to empower and give them an international platform to share their work, ideas, and opinions on music, fashion, art, and cinematography.

Tatjana Milovanović

Tatjana Milovanović is Associate Editor at Balkan Diskurs. Tatjana has 10 years of experience in the fields of intercultural dialogue, reconciliation and youth activism and holds a Law degree from the University of East Sarajevo. She was also a member of the first Youth Advisory Group of the OSCE Mission to BiH and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

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Winner of the Intercultural Achievement Recognition Award by the Austrian Federal Ministry for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs

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