Friday, August 28, 2015


The opening night film of the 2015 Sacramento French Film Festival was Samba.  I was not able to attend the June 19 screening but I was confident in my knowledge that it was coming to the Landmark Theaters.  Samba has come and gone from local area theaters but I was able to catch it a couple of weeks ago at the Opera Plaza.  The Opera Plaza is looking a little threadbare.  Reading how the Landmark Theaters renovated the Aquarius in Palo Alto only after a new lease had been signed, I suspect this has to be the case with the Opera Plaza which have had the same movie posters in the lobby since I first visited.  I can remember that first movie at the Opera Plaza.  It was The Lover with Jane March and Tony Leung Ka Fai Leung in 1992 or 1993.  The screening room it screened in was likely the smallest theater I've been in (possibly still the smallest).  The seats and screen look the same as I recall.  I wonder how much longer the Opera Plaza Theater's lease runs.

Samba starring Omar Sy & Charlotte Gainsbourg; directed by Olivier Nakache & Eric Toledano; mostly French with subtitles; (2014) - Official Website

Omar Sy is the epnonymous Samba, a Senegalese (& undocumented) immigrant in France.  Caught in an immigration sweep, the good-natured Samba is held in a detention center to await his fate.  While there, he meets Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg) who is a volunteer for an organization that provides legal council to immigrants.

I have missed (avoided?) Charlotte Gainsbourg's well-known collaborations with Lars von Trier (Nymphomaniac, Melancholia & Antichrist).  Looking at her filmography, I can only identify one other film that I've seen.  My sense is that Gainsbourg is well known & mildly controversial in Europe.  Her role in Samba reminded me of various performances I have seen of Valeria Bruni Tedeschi - a meek woman with repressed passions.

Samba is a like Gainsbourg's character in that you suspect there is more than meets the eye but you never really see what the film hints at.  Samba and Gainsbourg's Alice strike up a tentative relationship but it was the supporting cast that seemed more interesting.  Tahir Rahim is a fellow undocumented immigrant who gives Samba some help since he was indirectly responsible for his detention.  Rahim's character claims to be Brazilian but is actually Arab.  He maintains the charade because Brazilians do better with the ladies.  Sure enough, he begins dating a co-worker (Izïa Higelin) of Alice...the same co-worker who warns Alice not get involved with their clients.

Anyway, Samba (both the film and character) is amiable enough but not particularly satisfying.  Its feelgood ending is predicated on a hard-to-believe contrivance that borders on racist. If the film is any indication, there are a lot of parallels between undocumented immigrants in the US and France but all said, they seem to be treated better in France.  I'm not sure what elevated this film to opening night status at the Sacramento French Film Festival.

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