Samba is a comedy drama that traces the relationship between Senegalese illegal immigrant Samba (Omar Sy) and affluent, alienated charity worker Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg). The film presents a confusing mix of drama and comedy, the drama being the better part of the film. Samba is caught by the authorities after ten years working illegally in France. Alice is assigned by an advisory charity to help Samba through his difficult journey through a detention centre, where his experiences are eye opening. His basic human rights are eroded and, along with the audience, he is baffled by the confusing bureaucracy. But he also finds friendship.
Alice began volunteering as an aid worker after experiencing a breakdown while working as a senior executive. She is a complex and vulnerable character who seems likely to fall apart at any moment. The relationship between Alice and Samba develops slowly and unpredictably. They are people whose lives are vastly different, but both are struggling to live and this helps them form a connection. The comic scenes generally do not seem to fit the film. The comedy is not sophisticated and is somewhat misplaced. While humour can be found in the bleakest of circumstances, this didn't particularly hit the mark.
In 2011 the film’s directors broke box office records with a comedy drama about an aristocrat and his impoverished carer (also played by Omar Sy) in Untouchable. The film was a huge hit in France. It feels that maybe the filmmakers felt compelled to repeat the formula of their previous film. The film covers a wide area of issues and themes including looking at the realities of racism and cultural identity. The acting is sensitive and enjoyable. The characters are well cast including the excellent Tahar Rahim (A Prophet) as Samba’s friend Walid, who is also working illegally in France.
Overall the film is neither a political study of great depth or a particularly satisfying romance, and at times its shifts between seriousness and comedy feel awkward. However, it is enjoyable as a light drama which does offer some insight into life as an undocumented immigrant in France.