SAMBA (France/12A/118mins)
Directed by Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano. Starring Omar Sy, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Izia Igelin, Tahar Rahim.

THE PLOT: Samba Cissé (Omar Sy), a migrant from Senegal has lived and worked in Paris for 10 years. After unsuccessfully trying to gain legal residency in France, Samba is arrested and interred in a detention centre. Immigration officer Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is assigned to Samba’s case, and while she struggles to get Samba the legal paperwork to allow him to stay in France, the two grow closer.

THE VERDICT: Based on the novel Samba Pour France by Delphine Coulin, Samba is directed by the team behind INTOUCHABLES; Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano. The film starts out as a dramatic comment on the system of immigration in France, before evolving into a dramatic comedy and something less concrete.

Omar Sy brings the charm as the title character Samba; a good guy who makes mistakes. Sy makes the character endearing enough for the audience to root for him, and the film proves that this is an actor to watch out for, especially since he is starring in JURASSIC WORLD, out later this year. Charlotte Gainsbourg’s gently fragile character works well on screen; her empathy for Samba is the catalyst for the film, and her performance is understated and lovely. Gainsbourg also works well with the rather manic Manu – played by Izia Igelin – and Sy works well with the boisterous and flirty Wilson, played by Tahar Rahim.

The story, adapted for the screen by Delphine Coulin, Muriel Coulin, Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano starts out well enough, with the relationship between Samba and Alice taking centre stage. The trouble is that once Samba is told to leave France and doesn’t, the film seems to run out of energy, and instead becomes a catalogue of the mistakes that Samba makes, while he is obviously trying to be a good person. The final resolution for the film is not the one we might expect, but it still feels convenient, and also more than a little selfish, especially since Samba is a man who is plagued by the mistakes he makes. That said, however, the film is sweet and warm, and rather funny in places, even if it seems to forget the message of inclusion and acceptance that it starts off with.

Directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano seem to have focused on the characters in SAMBA, and allowed the story to fall by the wayside for the sake of spending more time with the rather sweet and gentle relationship between Samba and Alice. This is all well and good, and the characters are certainly well rounded and endearing, but this means that the issue of immigration and legally staying in ones adopted country falls by the wayside, making Samba more of a rom-com than a dramedy with a message.

In all, SAMBA is a well-acted film filled with engaging characters and a sweet story. The trouble is that the story is more concerned with being sweet than finishing what it started, meaning Samba starts with a bang, but ends with a convenient whimper.

Review by Brogen Hayes

Review by Brogen Hayes
3.0Forgets its own message
  • filmbuff2011

    French drama Samba is not a movie about dancing in the literal sense. It’s a film that dances around various themes and issues in modern France but never really settles on a key theme. Samba (Omar Sy) is an immigrant from Senegal who has settled into life there over the course of a decade. He’s worked hard at dead-end jobs, but now sees an opportunity to graduate from dish-washer to food preparation and make a more meaningful contribution to his new found land. Some technicalities land him in an immigration centre, where he meets immigration advisor Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her colleague Manu (Izia Higelin). Manu tells Alice to keep her distance and not get emotionally involved with the plight of the people she meets. But Alice takes an immediate liking to Samba, who is earnest and honest without being sentimental. Samba finds out that he has an obligation to leave France in the near future, so Alice advises him to keep a low profile and avoid unnecessary interaction with the authorities. Can Samba blend in and earn his right to stay in France? The new film from Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano has similar traits to their previous effort, the touching The Intouchables. It tugs at the heartstrings, but in a more realistic manner this time around. It also features Sy, a talented French actor who is reminiscent of Idris Elba. Greater things await for him – we’ll soon see him in Jurassic World. Working from Delphine Coulin’s book, Nakache and Toledano essentially make this a complicated and unfulfilled love story. Alice has issues of her own – she’s burnt out from a previous job and has bouts of mania. But there’s something natural in the dialogue and interactions between Sy and Gainsbourg that makes these flawed characters so interesting to watch. Their characters are from very different worlds, but yet find a common connection. A sub-plot involving Tahar Rahim’s fellow immigrant Wilson adds some humour, including an unexpected homage to a well-known ad for a soft drink. But it also takes time away from the core relationship between the two leads, which means that their relationship is somewhat under-cooked. While entertaining, Samba is a film that never really finds its own singular voice. It’s been lost somewhere in the script development, but that shouldn’t detract from what is mainly a decent film. ***