Samba (15) | Close-Up Film Review


Dir. Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, France, 2014, 120 mins, in French, English, Portuguese, Arabic and Russian with English subtitles

Cast: Omar Sy, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Tahar Rahim

The life of an illegal immigrant is a hard one. Samba (Omar Sy) is a young Senegal immigrant who after travelling to France does everything he can to stay under the radar and avoid the authorities. However, Samba isn’t all doom-and-gloom. It is a perfect balance of comedy and drama, a film that discusses the bottom and top of the social totem pole with wit and intelligence.

Samba is hard to place. Essentially, the film raises essential questions without supplying answers. Instead, the film pushes its audience towards a number of creative solutions, which are equally as entertaining as they are life changing.

Spearheading the film is Omar Sy (The Untouchables, On the Other side of the Tracks and Mood Indigo) who plays Samba, a hard working illegal immigrant who, as the movie opens, is making ends meet as a dishwasher. However, it is not long before things go awry for Samba as he gets in trouble and faces imminent deportation despite his length of stay in Paris without causing any trouble.

You come to learn that like many immigrants he has come to Paris not for a better life, but to work and provide money for his family back home. For much of the film, we watch Samba’s attempts to achieve legitimate residence in Paris, whilst maintaining a steady relationship with his would-be-girlfriend Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg).

Gainsbourg is cast well as Alice, a former senior executive who has suffered a burnout. Samba follows the stories of the pair as they struggle to sort out their lives and get back on track. However, this is far easier said than done as their struggles draw them together on a path that will change them both irreparably.

Throughout we see Samba work a series of lowly jobs that offer no greater a chance to establish himself as a legal resident. Under the watchful eye of his uncle whom has legal residency, there are many instances where the realities depicted in the film are fiercely disheartening. Samba’s faces relentless obstacles as his residency application is continually refused, getting him a one-way ticket to deportation from France. Samba is constantly at risk of being arrested and is seeking a safe haven, which he finds in Gainsbourg’s Alice.

There is an instant attraction between the two as she finds it hard also to contain her interest and affections for Samba, giving him her number on their first meeting despite the fact she was told not to. Together they create a very real, identifiable couple who are both awkward and clumsy as they attempt to establish an equal footing not only with each other, but with the system that oppresses them.

Although the story is very much Samba’s to tell, it is still interesting to watch Alice as she attempts to re-sensitize herself, in which Samba plays a huge role as the whole cast live in a very awkward, hugely illegal milieu with one another.

Directed by the duo that brought us the well received 2011 film The Untouchables, the film boasts a awesome soundtrack, filled with a number of punchy, memorable classics such as The Brothers Johnson’s “Stomp”, Bob Marley’s “Waiting In Vain”, and Cyreeta’s “To Know You Is to Love You”, among many others. Likewise, the film makes light of itself with a number of lough out loud set pieces that really help to relieve the building tension that is inevitable in a film that concerns itself with such serious social issues.

For example, Tahar Rahim as Wilson, in very dramatic fashion, pays homage to the 1998 Coke commercial advert; for those unaware of the ad, it stars a very attractive topless window washer who is being leered at by women working in the office block). He is a constant source of fun in a film that seeks out light relief in any form, and well cast as the wannabe Brazilian who changes identities in order to be better accepted by the French authorities. Whether he is taking charge of the screen with his very expressive dancing, attempting to fix someone’s U-bend or being his usual cheeky self, Rahim is a perfect compliment to a very versatile cast.

What remains pleasant about Samba is that it does not seek to impose any one opinion on the moviegoer. Despite the fact that it depicts the immigration system as absurd, authorities as evil and unjust, and pokes fun at itself, in many instances being clichéd or one-dimensional in its approach, there is a lightness to the film that makes it enjoyable to watch.

Finishing up with a very dramatic double ending, the film is about much more than love or immigration. Nor can it be labeled as a comedy, drama or seeking to put out some political message. It is all these things at once without being over the top, compensation one for the other to create a film of great contrasts. Samba is a powerful story that contains both realism and humour that works in the favour of the film’s implicit investigation.

Review by Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark

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