Heartwarming immigration drama with Omar Sy and Charlotte Gainsbourg
French writing-directing team Olivier Nakache and Éric Toledano follow up their 2011 crowd-pleaser Untouchable with the equally charming Samba, which again blends social issues with a heartwarming relationship narrative. Whereas Untouchable focused on the life-changing friendship between a wealthy quadriplegic (François Cluzet) and his disadvantaged carer (Omar Sy), Samba's focus is the burgeoning relationship between its titular Senegalese immigrant (again played by Sy) and the volunteer immigration co-ordinator Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg) assigned to his case.
Nakache and Toledano's fascination with the connections made across cultural, racial and class lines again provides some interesting observations of, and challenges to the enduring French suspicion of outsiders. Although Samba's experiences may be far removed from the horrors currently facing migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean, he is still treated like a criminal, and the futility of fighting against his fate casts a shadow across all aspects of his life, including his interactions with Alice. And while the film is shot through with a comedic element clearly intended to make its politics more palatable, as well as making the most of Sy's comic talents, it is still a sharply observed portrait of the emotional realities of our modern, multicultural society.
It is also a compelling character drama, and the exceptional central performances from Sy and Gainsbourg, not to mention their palpable chemistry, propels the story. Samba's larger-than-life presence and natural charisma brighten every scene, contrasting neatly with Alice's tense, nervous energy – Gainsbourg clearly relishing being cast against type – creating an irresistible dynamic that you can't help but root for. The supporting cast is also excellent, with Tahar Rahim particularly entertaining as Samba's opportunistic friend Walid. Indeed, despite their differences, this melting pot of people is so intriguing, so fundamentally likeable, that the requisite happy ending, although somewhat forced, is entirely welcome.
Selected release from Fri 1 May.