TIFF 2014 Review: Samba
The emotionally manipulative and convenient world of Samba tarnishes the hopeful spirit it intends to champion. You’re not likely to really root for the two leading characters, mainly because they don’t come across the least bit believable.
The title does not reference the dance, but the protagonist, an undocumented cook living with his uncle in France desperately seeking status – but his name is Samba and he is full of life, get it?! Played with great charm by the captivating Omar Sy, Samba is one part a likeable character – the other part is just unrealistic tangents.
When he gets served papers, he seeks the guidance of immigrations officials, and given his case is a rookie on sabbatical from her own job and personal issues. Charlotte Gainsbourg is Alice, awkward and shy, takes to Samba, loud and shy.
So they have an exceptionally slowly developing personal relationship, this middlebrow offering oscillates between serious drama and impish lark. Sometimes Samba seems like he is really in trouble and that his life will irrevocably change.
Other times, it’s a cartoon, with Samba brushing off his predicament with childlike indifference. Were this an actual character trait – an inability to cope with that which is serious –it would be permissible. Instead, it’s the film by Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano that can’t find a consistent tone or message. Some of the laughter is genuine, it just doesn’t fuse with forced grave elements.
Because though Alice and Samba are nice people, they are going to win the day. That’s the message here, as actual problems are tackled with careless lightness in what is basically the French immigration version of The Blindside.
What’s worse, this overlong, schizophrenic story, one that gives Samba an illegal buddy in flirtatious Brazilian handyman, misinterprets characters yelling and complaining as witty banter. Indeed, more than a handful of conversations devolve into shouting in a head-shaking way. It’s exhausting, and by the end you just want everyone to be safe so they will shut up.