Following his breakout success in The Intouchables, audiences will doubtless flock to see the magnetic personality of Omar Sy back on the big screen in this latest French rom-com-dram.
Once again playing the outsider to the bourgeoisie, Sy is the titular Samba, a Senegalese immigrant living in Paris who has managed to keep his head down and his illegality secret for ten years. Desperate for gainful employment and the opportunity to stay in France, Samba’s sudden dilemma brings him into contact with the nervy Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg, taking some light-hearted time-out after hardcore fare like Nymphomaniac and Melancholia), a novice immigration consultant who has her own issues.
Putting aside concerns that Sy may be stepping onto the typecasting treadmill by playing the “worldly, impoverished one” in odd-couple movies, there is no disputing his star-power. Where Alice is clumsy, emotionally and physically, Samba is disarmingly smooth, and though Gainsbourg is slightly over-the-top in her oversized coat and sleeping pill addiction, it’s easy to see why Alice falls under Samba’s thrall.
Aided by marvellous photography and a terrifically edgy yet ambient soundtrack, the plot (adapted by the film’s co-directors from the novel by Delphine Coulin) delivers thought-provoking and sympathetic insights into the very real plight of Paris’ immigrant community.
These home truths are, however, somewhat undermined when the French penchant for laughs disrupts the mood – and not always successfully. While a throwback to a decades-old Coca Cola commercial is cutely delivered (allowing the perpetually serious Tahar Rahim from A Prophet to crack his first onscreen smile), there are some unfortunate farcical moments and a plot contrivance that can only be forgiven thanks to Sy’s inherent charm.