Sad story that makes you dance

Sonia Hadj Said

Yet another sad immigrant story?

Those are always depressing and uncomfortable. You try to understand both sides while at the same time trying not to stereotype. Well, this one is for you.
The story is that of an illegal immigrant from Senegal who gets a warrant to leave France after ten years, and just in the moment when his life was about to get better. In his world this means the possibility of being trained to become a chef. It meant he could start to properly provide for his family. Determined to stay, he puts up a fight and happens to meet a French volunteer who is going through a burn-out (I love how they mix it with French). But don’t worry, it’s not a silly love story. 

From now on Samba has to watch out. He can’t be caught anywhere. He has to dress properly. As the film goes on we can see him trying to fit in what might be ‘an appropriate’ Parisian look. There is paranoia and uncertainty: does he look good enough? Should he just look down? Are people looking, can they see through him?
Just a thought: we’re not all illegal immigrants, but be honest: how many times did you just try to fit in? Did you thank your pretty face, a sense of style, good language skills and the ability to adapt? Did it make you feel better to know people think more of you than you think of yourself? It’s all good until it’s only you fighting the battle.

While Samba still needs work, he gets an ID from his uncle. It doesn’t take him long to get his relative mixed up in the whole situation and consequentially fired from the good restaurant he was working at for years. Struggling with guilt, Samba accepts any temp job he can just to support his uncle and his family back home. Complicating things with the french volunteer doesn’t help, as he just wants to survive another day hoping for a better tomorrow. And yet, the next day comes as he’s still revolving around the same sad carousel feeling more dizzy with each turn.
It sounds like a shit, no escape story, I know. But hey, did I mention the dancing? Right, so…

How do you find happiness at the bottom of sadness?

‘Samba’ is a very real story, but also one so happy that it almost made me feel jealous. Yes, I envied the protagonist even though he took shit from every side. He was humiliated and battered in the only country that could offer him a good life. It must actually be the only film where every minor character makes us feel a lot, and even though is seems sad, it still feels like a samba dance: full of passion and happiness.


A person is more than a surname and a country on a passport


The film doesn’t only treat the issue of immigration. Samba and his friend, Wilson forget who they are, where they’re from and what they’re after. Wilson – who appears to be always happy and charismatic bears some dark secrets as well. And oh, are they worth finding out.
Still, Wilson proves that a person is more than a surname and a country on a passport. And yet, he reminds us how important that is to other people.

This is the beauty of a simple life. When you have nothing, you find pleasure in the smallest and simplest things. So what if they’re running from the police, if they’re sitting on a roof and enjoying the Paris view a few minutes later?
They’re unable to stay in one job, but they will keep on dancing in the immigration centre, seeking mutual feelings from women that help them survive every day. They sit at a poor table with plastic cups talking about the deepest dreams. For one night, they forget that there is a wall between some of them on a daily basis. The society can’t see them, but they have lives more colourful than ours.

Closer to you than you might think.

Even though ‘Samba’ talks about illegal immigration, everyone would be moved with the story. It’s simply because our problems aren’t much different.

It’s the difficulties of finding that first job and wondering if I will stay myself. Is it the place changing me? Do I feel like I need to be different to be accepted?

Finding friends in people coming from completely different cultures. Letting them become as close as a family would. Testing the boundaries (quite literally) and the willingness to create a new home and a new life out of nothing.
Samba is us. Sometimes our own home may seem like a trap and our job like something necessary. The film shows how to not lose that faith and more importantly – to move forward.
It’s the only kind of film where I didn’t feel pity, but a peace of mind. Sometimes that’s what you need. To get down there, to hell, look up – preferably at the Eiffel Tower – and dance.


Banner image: in the picture magazine

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