Samba opens at a swanky high-class party in which the camera, in one impressive take, pulls back from the decadence, winds through bustling corridors and settles on Samba (Omar Sy), washing dishes at the back of a hotel kitchen. His employment there is strictly off the books, and when the offer of a proper contract proves too tempting to ignore, he’s seized upon by immigration police – despite having lived in Paris for the past ten years. With nowhere to turn, Samba comes face to face with Alice (Charlotte Gainsborough), a burnt-out white collar worker volunteering at the immigration office after suffering from a stress-related breakdown. Samba is to be Alice’s first case, and despite vehement warnings from her co-worker to not get emotionally involved with the people she’s helping, it’s clear there’s a magnetic chemistry between the two of them that can’t be ignored.
Playing against type, Gainsborough’s character is timid, anxious and vulnerable. Samba, on the other hand, is vibrant, optimistic and a little goofy – regardless of the precarious situation he finds himself in. On screen, their relationship is incredible to watch, their vulnerabilities dissipating completely when around one another. Alice forgets all about her hang-ups, the stress and worry that tinge her life, while Samba needs little encouragement to enjoy being with the woman in front of him. For all the seriousness of the issues portrayed in the film, there’s an unashamed light-heartedness, if not sentimentality, in the directors’ approach. Scenes of pain are even more effectively realised when followed by moments of relief, and only every so often does the film’s comic tone feel a touch irksome.
The hit-and-miss episodes of farce in Samba serve to disrupt the coming together of the central pair, as well as highlighting the unbridled resolve of the titular character. While some have taken issue with the film’s insincere treatment of a problem that is so prevalent in France, it really is difficult to resist its charm; a charm embodied by Sy as Samba.
After two huge successes, it will be intriguing to see what Sy turns his talent to next. With stars like Gainsborough already queuing up to work with him, he’s quickly becoming on of French cinema’s most bankable exports.
Samba is released nationwide on 1st May 2015.
Watch the trailer for Samba here: