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Review: Samba

10 min read
Omar Sy stars in Broad Green Pictures' "Samba"

Immigration gets a great deal of attention here in America, but it’s an issue in many other countries as well. Many of us don’t know how it is to be one of the people caught in these situations, so it may be difficult for us to understand the many trials and tribulations that come with it. In Samba, we get something that gives us a glimpse into that world even though it can’t possibly give us everything there is to know.

In this film, Samba (Omar Sy) is an immigrant from Senegal who’s been living in France illegally for a decade now. Though undocumented and not exactly accustomed to life in France, the man is a hard worker who does all he can to provide for his family by taking any job he can while dreaming of becoming a professional chef and doing his best to avoid deportation. Together with an introduction to new people, Samba enters a desperate period that will see him flourish or get sent back Senegal as a failure.

Samba begins like one of those types of foreign films that becomes aimless before finally finding its groove in the latter half of its run time. That’s not something I’m interested in, but luckily, it doesn’t actually end up going in that direction. As it turns out, Samba is a smooth movie with a clear direction. When watching it, you can tell that the people behind it put some thought into everything that flashes across the screen. For that, they should be commended as that’s not always the case for even films that are considered to be some of the all time best.

Samba turns out to be about romance, family, dedication and immigration, but there’s a soul here that makes the movie feel as if it’s solely about life. This makes everything fit together and work well. We’re allowed to learn about the characters while seeing the kinds of lives that are being lived by the likes of Samba and other immigrants fighting to remain in a country that doesn’t necessarily welcome them.

These segments of this film are handled in a way that’s strangely positive. One would think that dealing with a serious issue like this would make the movie a little more controversial and serious, but they use many of these scenes to show the positive personalities of the characters. In spite of the difficult lives they lead, they make time to have fun as they try to live out their existences to the best of their abilities. In a sense, it’s like people who live in any difficult set of circumstances. Plenty of us can still find the good in life even if we’re not supposed to. It’s what keeps some people moving since cloaking themselves in negativity would likely destroy their souls.

As much as I loved watching this French film, I have to give credit to the actors for bringing this to life. From Omar Sy to Charlotte Gainsbourg to Tahar Rahim, these guys do a great job of making this all worthwhile. Even the actors who get less screen time than those three are great additions to the film and appear to have some depth to them.

Not only is Samba entertaining to watch, it also does something better than most American films. This is another foreign film that knows how to create non-White characters that are actually shown to be more than just their race or skin color. What I mean by that is that in American film, Black characters for example are usually only Black because they have to be. The skin color is a main focal point of the film unless your name is Denzel Washington or Will Smith. Other than that, you’re probably only getting a lead role as a person of color if it’s a necessity.

In Samba, the lead character is a person of color, but that’s never really that important to what’s going on. They do touch on it once or twice, but they’re fleeting moments that don’t have much to do with the film overall. Even the race of Tahar Rahim’s character is looked at but it’s only for a split second to help us look at the difficulties that undocumented immigrants face in France. Ultimately he and Samba are still only people just trying to survive. You could have made them any race and it wouldn’t have really changed anything.

With the help of this approach, Samba has a natural tone that gives everything being put on display an organic spirit. Like life, what’s witness here isn’t lineal as it moves from one important point of Samba’s life to the next. As a result, you can also believe that these are actual people moving through life since it’s all controlled while never seeming to tightly wound. For myself, this is an important factor of film since I’m always trying to understand the intricate details involved in the filmmaking process.

Overall, I had a pleasant experience with this amusing piece of cinema. There’s a joyous flow at play as everything moves fluently toward its odd yet somehow rewarding conclusion. In spite of everything that’s being thrown at its characters, Samba includes an uplifting story that someone who loves positivity can appreciate.

Rating: R

Oliver Nakache
Eric Toledano

Omar Sy
Charlotte Gainsbourg
Tahar Rahim
Izïa Higelin

Film Length: 118 minutes

Release Date: August 7, 2015

Distributor: Broad Green Pictures

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