Samba has been living in France for 10 years since migrating from Senegal, keeping his head down and working in a range of laborious, monotonous jobs to make ends meet. However when the authorities get wind of his presence, he is ordered to leave the nation and return back home. Determined to do all he can to get papers and become a legal citizen, he requires the help of immigration officer Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Though as the pair become affectionate towards one another, they do so knowing that he could forced to leave at any given opportunity.
Though presented in a somewhat light way, this piece is grounded by its pertinent themes, showing immigrants to be genuine, diligent and earnest people, who in many cases only fled their home because of war, and are merely in search of a peaceful, safer existence. This is not the life Samba wanted, but the one he realises he needs in order to survive. But the filmmakers are careful not to just romanticise over the character in a contrived manner, he’s just a human being, he’s flawed, imperfect – and that’s far more relatable and effective.
Samba is not the only troubled soul either, as Alice herself has deep rooted issues, proving that regardless of their backgrounds, and despite the fact she has security in France – which is everything he dreams of – it doesn’t instantly guarantee happiness. There’s a good chemistry between the leading pair too, though the romance does feel like a needless addition to this tale. It’s a shame we abide by convention so shamelessly in this regard, seeking only in detracting from the more intriguing and profound elements of this narrative.
The performances are impressive though, as not only does Tahar Rahim shine as Samba’s best friend Wilson, but Gainsbourg turns in a wonderfully nuanced performance, the sort that belongs in a drama, not a film with such comic tendencies. Yet it never feels out of place, and if anything is the perfect counterpart to Sy’s more frivolous approach, while there’s such a warmth and charm to this actor, who is endearingly playful. Despite his broad stature and height, he has such a graceful screen presence.
Similarly to Untouchable, again these filmmakers present a somewhat light, delicate take on hard issues – and though this can be accused of not quite getting to the severity of the issue, and perhaps patronising the viewer at times, there is a place for films such as this. Yes there is a duty to reflect reality, but this is escapism, it’s entertainment, and Nakache and Toledano thrive off this notion. In fact, sometimes the best way to understand and comprehend these issues is in such an accessible way, as comedy can be such a wonderful vehicle for such sombre themes and issues. However, unlike the masterpiece that came before this, Samba is just missing that same sense of enchantment. Perhaps he should have just danced, after all.