Samba – Review

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Now seems as good a time as any for a film that deals with the subject of immigration to be released – and even more pertinent and essential is to see the world from their perspective, and go on their journey with them, allowing the audience to invest in the characters at hand and empathise accordingly. From the directors of Untouchable, Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache, comes their latest collaboration Samba, a film which lives off the very same spirit and tone of their preceding endeavour, finding a healthy balance between comedy and pathos – albeit without that same sense of enchantment that made Untouchable such special cinema.

Omar Sy is another common denominator, and he plays the titular protagonist, who has been living in France for 10 years after migrating from Senegal. Having worked a string of laborious, monotonous jobs across that time, eventually the authorities get wind of his situation, and attempt to send him back home to his native country. Desperate to stay in France with his family, he starts visiting an immigration officer, Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg) to help him acquire his papers and become a legal citizen. Though what he wasn’t expecting was to fall for the woman who is trying to keep him in the country, adding an extra incentive to stick around just that little bit longer.

Though told in a rather light, frivolous way, Samba is grounded by the severity of the themes being explored. But this is by no means a romanticised, idealistic view on immigration: the character of Samba is not an angel, he’s flawed and his imperfections are vital to us believing in the character, and rooting for him to stay. What helps matters tremendously, is having such an inherently affable and charismatic actor in Sy, who has such a charm about him – and despite his lumbering physique, a graceful screen presence. He’s just one of several impressive performances in this title, as Gainsbourg too impresses by turning in a nuanced display, and one that wouldn’t be out of place in a hard-hitting drama, doing justice to the character despite the comedic tendencies – and providing the perfect foil for Sy’s antics. Meanwhile, Tahar Rahim – who plays Samba’s best friend Wilson – brings the majority of the humour as another actor who just commands the screen at all times.

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There is a very fine line between what can be considered patronising and what is merely accessible, and in this case, it’s a rather blurred one. But so what? Yes, at times Samba can be accused of falling into the former camp – but when spreading a good, humanitarian message of this ilk, then if you have to water it down a little to ensure it can be understood and appreciated by absolutely anybody, then so be it.

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About Stefan Pape

Stefan Pape is a film critic and interviewer who spends most of his time in dark rooms, sipping on filter coffee and becoming perilously embroiled in the lives of others. He adores the work of Billy Wilder and Woody Allen, and won’t have a bad word said against Paul Giamatti.

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