Too many times have we seen Paris and the mecca of love and artistic freedom. Around every corner, there is a magical moment to be had at some charming café or skilled, painted pantomimer. This is the Paris we have come to expect from every American-abroad romantic comedy and Jean-Pierre Jeunet film. Samba attempts to show us the everyday struggle of the working class and their attempts to chase the Parisian dream.
Samba (Omar Sy), aside from being a very spirited dance is also the name of an equally spirited immigrant. He has come to France to work so he can provide for his family who is an entire continent away. He is currently staying with his elderly uncle, who is and has been doing the same thing for decades. After trying to go the legal route and applying for citizenship, Samba is put on the government’s radar and asked to leave the country. Even with the help of an over-enthusiastic, slightly sexually motivated case worker, Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg), Samba is forced to leave his steady job for work as a temp, using a fake identity and hiding running from naturalization agents at every turn. His life, like his uncle’s, was meant to be a selfless one, but he is looking for the chance at his happiness. That happiness appears in the form of Alice, but she has problems of her own.
The writing director duo of Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, who brought us the charming story of a handicapped man employing a caregiver from a much lower economic class, now bring us their take on the state of immigration in France, but more specifically Paris. Like in their previous film, The Intouchables, they try to tackle serious topics with mostly humor and charisma but never showing the true ugly side of the situations. The same applies to their more ambitious film Samba, that focuses on the economic, political and social struggles of the many illegal immigrants in the country. The filmmakers tackle this myriad of topics similarly as they did in their previous film, with humor and the use of character relationships. Instead of the platonic relationship established between the older man and his younger caregiver, Nakache and Toledano develop a romantic relationship in Samba between the two leads, Sy and Gainsbourg.
Aside from proving that even in the hardest of times Paris is still the city of love, the film also shies away from showing the grittier underbelly of the Parisian underworld where people live in constant, psyche-breaking fear of being caught, while simultaneously working and trying to provide for themselves and their families abroad. We do get a glimpse into just how hard life is for the Parisian working class, but the filmmakers opt for a comical tone that works to set up the characters as amiable while taking a toll on the true gravity of their situations.
The compromises made to the story’s tone benefits the great cast that manages to bring this story to life. Samba takes a more attractive approach to the ugly situations it is trying to present by focusing on the unconventional relationship between the two leads. This gives the relationship between Charlotte Gainsbourg and Omar Sy a chance to take center stage but instead ends up dominating the entire film. Each character is surprisingly likable despite all the actions they do to the contrary. Sy’s character sleeps with his friend’s soon to be wife after being sent to get her help. When his Samba’s actions lead to a confrontation, we are somehow still cheering on Samba to come out on top. Gainsbourg’s character of Alice, aside from smashing a cell phone over a man’s head, also has a very obsessive personality, especially when it comes to her sudden, sexual fixation on Samba. This just goes to show the skill of the actors for making us like characters that have the same characteristics as those of villains. The only villains here are the government and cell phones apparently.
RATING: ★★★★★★ (6/10 stars)