In 2011, we fell in love with the French film ‘The Intouchables’ - and ladies, Omar Sy. Come on, you know what I’m talkin’ about. Am I right? It wasn’t that he was beautiful, French, and ridiculously talented with a smile take could make you melt and forget all your troubles; as an actor he has the most inexplicable ability to convey dominance, vulnerability, compassion, humility and laughter at all times. The team that made ‘The Intouchables’ is back (Omar included) with ‘Samba’. After the huge success that was ‘The Intouchables’ it’s no easy task to make magic all over again, but with their new-found star in hand, directors Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache give their second-best try.
Samba (Omar Sy), a migrant from Senegal who’s been living in France for 10 years, is desperate for a better life. After being busted by authorities as undocumented, he strikes up a friendship with his case worker Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg), who herself is going through a transition after suffering a burnout in corporate life. Both find solace and hope in the other, just what they need to keep going and work their way out of the dark.
‘Samba’ is not the picturesque Paris postcard we viewed with envy housed in the opulence that was ‘The Intouchables’. Now we’re in the poor, immigrant neighbourhoods living in squalor, the by-product of the Catch-22 bureaucracy that means to get working papers you have to have a job, to get a job you have to have working papers - forcing those in this limbo to take odd day-to-day, menial and dangerous jobs for little pay while still looking over their shoulder.
'Samba' still brings warmth and humour where it should.
While unable to recapture that multilayered and faceted magic or chemistry of ‘The Intouchables’, 'Samba' still brings warmth and humour where it should. Plagued by inevitability, the film does offer up a few surprises, and is backed by a strong and charismatic cast rounded out by the scene-stealing Tahar Rahim – I draw your attention to the "Coca-Cola" moment.
Admittedly, the moving plight of the undocumented worker gets less attention than it deserves among the mismatched love story that would have been served better as a friendship, mentor/mentee relationship, or even a forbidden love story - but alas, the filmmakers go for it and it doesn’t quite pay off.
This is another to add to the list of why we love French cinema. It might not be at the top of your favourites, but it will at least make the list.