Samba in New York

At the première with Olivier Nakache and Omar Sy.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano's Samba, stars Omar Sy, Tahar Rahim (Grand Central) and Charlotte Gainsbourg
Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano's Samba, stars Omar Sy, Tahar Rahim (Grand Central) and Charlotte Gainsbourg Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

At The Paris Theatre, the greats of the past - Ernst Lubitsch, Billy Wilder, Charlie Chaplin and Frank Capra - and Italy's recent past - Dino Risi, Ettore Scola and Mario Monicelli - blended with Ken Loach, Michel Gondry and Woody Allen as Samba co-director Olivier Nakache and Omar Sy spoke with me on the red carpet. Sy also starred in Nakache and Eric Toledano's The Intouchables. Omar Sy will soon be seen in John Wells' (of August: Osage County fame) Adam Jones with Bradley Cooper and Alicia Vikander and is filming Ron Howard's Inferno with Tom Hanks, Ben Foster and Felicity Jones.

Samba co-director Olivier Nakache:
Samba co-director Olivier Nakache: "We like to discover something about society, but with humor." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Omar's wife, Hélène Sy, was joined by guests Michael Avedon, Lana Juanna-Arami, Rachel Bertram, Kiera Chaplin, Sarita Choudhury, Maria Cornejo, Rachael Emrich, Lilly Englert, Tali Lennox, Judd Hirsch, Ariya Ghahramani, Hettienne Park, Aimee Ruby, Ike Ude, Theodora Woolley, Talia Wray, Robert Wuhl, Iola Sieber, Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman, Sydney Van Til, Pat Kiernan, Alisa Dudareva and Aramis Zitu Alexander, for the Broad Green Pictures' VIP screening of Samba on Thursday night.

Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano have succeeded brightly, never losing the humanity and humor, as they tell a critical story of today. In Samba, the difficulty of getting through this life with some sense of dignity connects an illegal immigrant (Sy) from Senegal, who for ten years has been struggling to stay in France, a pal of his, going by the Brazilian name "Wilson" (Tahar Rahim), and the insomniac Alice played with impeccable comedic timing by Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Dialogues sparkle and props are used to fine, pointed effect, be it a red piece of paper, a pony, or an accidentally snacked macaroon.

Anne-Katrin Titze: You like to make comedies about very serious issues. Are there filmmakers you see as role models, who did the same thing?

Olivier Nakache introducing Samba with Omar Sy and producers Daniel Hammond and Gabriel Hammond at The Paris Theatre
Olivier Nakache introducing Samba with Omar Sy and producers Daniel Hammond and Gabriel Hammond at The Paris Theatre Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Olivier Nakache: Yeah. The Italian guys from the Seventies like Dino Risi, Ettore Scola, [Mario] Monicelli. They made beautiful comedies but about social issues. And we like these kind of comedies. For the English, the director Ken Loach makes these, too. We like this. We like to discover something about society, but with humour. The humour is our way to expression. The humour for us is like a shield. We think the closest way from one man to another man is through humour.

AKT: For this you could even go back to Lubitsch or Billy Wilder or Chaplin!

ON: Yeah, oh, yeah. Chaplin, of course, and Frank Capra did this, too. And Lubitsch, of course, of course. And you know, you talked about Lubitsch - the movies of Lubitsch you can watch and watch again and watch again during your life. And when you grow up, you discover other things in them. You know what I mean?

AKT: I do.

ON: Also in Woody Allen movies. You discover other things on life in there. But, yes, Lubitsch is a good example.

Omar Sy on working with Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano:
Omar Sy on working with Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano: "They talk about serious and deep topics. And they do it with a great sense of humor." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: And you are on that track?

ON (with a shy smile): Yes?

Anne-Katrin Titze: Samba is a comedy about a very serious issue. Are there filmmakers you admire who were doing the same thing?

Omar Sy: For me it's an incredible way to do movies. They talk about serious and deep topics. And they do it with a great sense of humour. That is [directors Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano's] signature. And I love that. That's why I love working with them. Because I'm like that. I think the more it is dramatic, the more it is heavy, the more you have to have a little bit of humour to save you.

AKT: Every time I see you, I have to think of Gondry's legs [enormously long, handmade wobbly spider legs he gave Omar to dance le Biglemoi in his adaptation of Boris Vian's L'écume des jours].

OS (laughs): Oh, thank you very much!

Omar was recently seen in Bryan Singer's X-Men: Days Of Future Past with Hugh Jackman, James McAvoy, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry, Patrick Stewart, Jennifer Lawrence and Michael Fassbender.

Samba opens in the US on July 24.

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