Reel Reminiscent #2: A Review of Samba
Directed by Eric Toledano & Olivier Nakache
Starring Omar Sy, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Tahar Rahim, Izïa Higelin
Samba opens with an extravagant and flamboyant wedding reception contrasted with the tireless hospitality workers who serve behind the scenes. Here we meet Samba (Omar Sy), a heavy-hearted kitchen hand who spends his days working menial jobs to provide for his family in Senegal, before returning to a detention center where he has been incarcerated as an illegal immigrant for nearly a decade.
The plot is divided between the accidental love story that evolves between Samba and the burnt-out executive Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg), whose stressful day job has led her to charity work at a legal aid center, and on Samba’s unlawful efforts to find work while simultaneously avoiding immigration authorities.
Viewers expecting to see a carefree, audacious and ill-behaved Omar Sy in Samba as they did in The Intouchables will be slightly disappointed. While there is still an element of the boyish light-heartedness filmgoers fell in love with in his previous collaboration with directors Toledano and Nakache, one senses quickly that the world Sy inhabits in Samba is indeed a more somber (and sober) one. Which is not to say that Sy’s onscreen presence, this time as a hapless fugitive, is lacking. Sy manages to portray through sad, smiling eyes and an all-but-defeated posture the weight that comes with an immigrant’s obligations to both family and friends amidst growing pressures to either assimilate or vacate in modern day Paris.
Although humour is an expected staple in Samba, additional comic relief is found in the protagonist’s nonchalant “Brazilian” chum Walid (Tahar Rahim). To those only vaguely familiar with Rahim’s film credentials, his comical efforts are an unlikely but welcomed departure from his Godfather-esque performance in The Prophet. The chemistry between Sy and Rahim is generous and intimate, and no more so than in a scene where they attempt to evade immigration authorities on foot and over a Paris rooftop.
The film’s editor, Dorian Rigal-Ansous, does reasonably well to create a seamless story. Scenes are playfully juxtaposed with the intention of giving the viewer the sense that the plot has skipped a crucial moment. This subtle effect is evident when, after a boozy celebration at the legal aid center, the viewer is transported to Alice’s apartment, where Samba sits awkwardly on a couch engaging in what appears to be uncomfortable post-coitus chatter. Thankfully, the plot continues to unfold in a more logical fashion.
The score, composed by Ludovico Einaudi, is at times reminiscent of the dreamlike piano compositions that Yann Tiersen created to help make Amelie an unforgettable viewing treat. The haunting but hopeful compilation augments the sense of angst Samba faces in balancing his various responsibilities and relationships while constantly being pursued. The soundtrack compliments the optimistic overtones Samba aims at portraying, with the choice to include Syreeta Wright and Stevie Wonder’s To know you is to love you subtly augmenting the film’s exploration of the themes of identity and relationships.
All in all, Samba is a feel-good flick that continues the successful collaboration between its duo directors and the charming and expressive Omar Sy. With plenty of laughs and just the right amount of catastrophe, Samba is well worth the price of admission (or, in this case, the $3.95 from your local video store).
Nice touch: Gainsbourg’s quip about “excessive sex” seems to be a cheeky nod to her role as a sex addict in the exploratory 2013 flick Nymphomanic.