Samba

 

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A touching and funny exploration of two misfits meeting on common ground.

 

Samba

Omar Sy, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Izïa Higelin

  

Samba Cissé is a mess. Although named after a dance, he is uncomfortable on the dance floor. He’s also terrified of heights, yet ends up on the rooftops of Paris far from his home in Senegal. Worse still, after he has spent ten years working his way into the favour of a respectable French restaurant, a bureaucratic slip-up lands him in a detention centre for illegal immigrants. However, there is a glimmer of hope when he applies to a pro bono immigration law agency and meets Alice, a caseworker with an ability to see the person behind the case. But she’s a mess, too, having recently recovered from a breakdown and now reliant on a battery of anti-depressants and sleeping pills. Admonished by her sister, who works in the same office, to keep her subjects at arm’s length, Alice immediately breaks the rules and gives Samba her private number…

 

What is so touching about Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano's film is that both Samba and Alice are lost souls who find redemption in helping each other. And in spite of their personal problems, they still have the capacity to listen. Being French, Samba is a comedy rooted in real life and neither protagonist is a convenient cypher: Samba sleeps with a friend’s girlfriend and Alice repeatedly breaks the rules designed to help her. But because of their flaws they are more human and thus more empathetic.

 

In the generous hands of Omar Sy – who won a César for Nakache and Toledano's irresistible Untouchable – Samba is a gentle giant with a humanity you want to package and keep in your back pocket. As Alice, Charlotte Gainsbourg plays against type and reveals a penchant for comic timing that never undermines the reality of the piece. It’s refreshing, too, to come across a film about immigration that is not afraid to sweeten the pill with humour. As another alien, Tahar Rahim adds more unexpected comedy as an Algerian who pretends he’s Brazilian because, as such, he reckons he’s got more of a chance with the ladies. And the scene in which he and Samba recreate the Coca Cola commercial featuring a shirtless window cleaner is a delightful distraction. Like their Untouchable, Nakache and Toledano's Samba grapples with all-too serious and topical themes with a light hand that, while deliciously entertaining, never compromises its import.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Omar Sy, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Tahar Rahim, Izïa Higelin, Hélène Vincent, Liya Kebede, Clotilde Mollet, Isaka Sawadogo, Sabine Pakora, Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano.

 

Dir Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, Pro Nicolas Duval-Adassovsky, Laurent Zeitoun and Yann Zenou, Screenplay Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, Ph Stéphane Fontaine, Pro Des Nicolas de Boiscuillé, Ed Dorian Rigal-Ansous, Music Ludovico Einaudi, Costumes Isabelle Pannetier.

 

Canal+/Gaumont/Korokoro/Quad Films/Ten Films/TF1 Films Production-Koch Film.

118 mins. France. 2014. Rel: 1 May 2015. Cert. 15.