The Movie Waffler New Release Review - <i>SAMBA</i> | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - SAMBA

An illegal immigrant forms a romantic bond with his immigration officer.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledano

Starring: Omar Sy, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Tahar Rahim, Izia Higelin

"Samba asks us to believe that all black men look alike for the sake of a late plot twist, merely one of its many offensive beats. I've seen Charlie Chan movies from the '30s that are more racially sensitive than this travesty."

There's a low budget British sci-fi movie from 1966 called Invasion, which features a malevolent alien who assumes the guise of an Asian female. At one point she kills an Asian nurse and steals her uniform. The movie then assumes its audience will fall for the idea that she can pass off her new identity because they believe all Asians look alike. It's impossible to watch the film now without cringing at the ignorance at play, but the movie has the excuse of being made 50 years ago. We'll never see anything approaching this level of racial ignorance from a British movie again. On the evidence of Samba, however, it seems France is still stuck in the '60s in this regard, as it pulls off exactly the same trick, this time asking us to believe that all black men look alike for the sake of a late plot twist, merely one of its many offensive beats.
The Intouchables, the previous offering from the writing/directing team of Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano was an enormous hit in France. A contemporary Gallic twist on Driving Miss Daisy, the movie was well intentioned but shockingly ignorant in its reductive stereotypes regarding race and class, something critics outside France rightly lambasted the movie for. With their eagerly awaited followup (in France at least), Nakache and Toledano have dialled the ignorance up to 11. I've seen Charlie Chan movies from the '30s that are more racially sensitive than this travesty.
Charlotte Gainsbourg once more gets to play the role of damaged waif; this time she's France's worst immigration officer, Alice, an insomniac with a tendency to explode in fits of rage at work. How she's allowed to keep her job is never accounted for, but this isn't a movie that cares about such real world details. She gets the hots for Samba (Omar Sy), a handsome and charming illegal immigrant from Senegal who finds himself ordered to leave France and return home. It's a poorly drawn relationship between two stick figure characters whose narcissistic tendencies prevent us from caring about their plight. Alice only seems to care about Samba because he's a hunk, and shows no such interest in the well being of the other immigrants she deals with.
Through the course of the story we're treated to a litany of offensive moments, the like of which I never thought I'd witness in a movie in 2015. During one conversation between Alice and Samba, the former, while moaning about her job, complains that she feels "like a slave," without a hint of irony or sensitivity to who she's addressing. Tahar Rahim plays an Arab pretending to be a Brazilian, and even Gainsbourg, who works with immigrants every goddamn day, doesn't see through his wholly unconvincing ruse. Samba's uncle is jokingly referred to as 'Morgan Freeman', simply because he's an elderly black man. One wholly unbelievable scene has Samba enter a subway car where every white commuter stares at him as though he's the first black man they've ever seen, despite Paris being home to one of the largest African communities in Europe! While the movie asks us to sympathise with the plight of immigrants, it roundly portrays them all as deceitful layabouts. Most stomach churning of all is the aforementioned late plot twist that proffers the notion that black men are visually interchangeable.
What's most worrying about all this is how oblivious Nakache and Toledano seem to be with regards to their ignorance. Only France seems capable of producing filmmakers this out of touch with reality. Sacre bleu indeed!