Samba, a featured film from 2014, depicts the difficult lives of certain immigrants in France, caught between the daily struggle to feed and house themselves with dignity and confronted to administrative delays, stranding them and leaving them to wander. The film is an adaptation of the novel Samba pour la France, by Delphine Coulin (Paris, Éditions du Seuil, coll. « Cadre rouge », 2011). 

The core of the film is an engaging quartet: Samba is a Senegalese who is fighting to stay and work in France (Omar Sy), Alice is a burnt-out executive who is creating a new social life for herself through voluntary work (Charlotte Gainsbourg), Wilson is also an immigrant, played by Tahar Rahim, and finally, Izia Higelin plays the role of Manu who is a volunteer like Alice. There are different reasons why the volunteers are helping these foreigners threatened by deportation, just as there are different reasons why they came to France in the first place.

Rights, only in theory

Asylum seekers and other legal newcomers in France and Europe have rights, but administrative delays prevent them from accessing them and may discourage them. 

This movie shows the work done by a number of associations like Alice’s, to help migrants overcome the difficulties they face: language barriers, complexity of the paperwork involved, the multiplicity of people to deal with – are all obstacles to overcome in order to regularise their situation. Discouraged, some remain in irregular situations for years onward. 

This situation, as Samba experienced for 10 years, means being in constant fear of identity checks, with the labour inspectorate and health issues, even though he is not a criminal, just a worker like any other. Samba’s tragedy is that in the end, under different circumstances, he could become French, as he is a french-speaking individual and has been in France for at least 5 years. 

At the start of the film, the association intervenes to defend Samba in the waiting area for people awaiting deportation (also known as the Zapi) at Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport. It is estimated that 6,000 people pass through there every year. They are not detained in the true sense of the word, but held for the time needed to assess their situation and decide whether they should be expelled from France, allowed to travel in France or placed under a judicial procedure.

When it comes to immigration, a distinction must be made between National and European norms. At the European level, the Dublin regulation requires that migrants lodge their asylum applications in the countries that register their fingerprints, which is the country in which they entered the EU. This intensifies the problems of receiving migrants, particularly for Greece and Italy. In order to escape this system, they must already have a family member legally residing in Europe and request to join them. 

The migratory crisis persists, pressure at the borders is increasing, and yet there has been no in-depth reform of the asylum application system and other forms of migration. Delays are only getting longer, plunging thousands of people into precariousness and, in some cases, illegality. Since 2015 and the various migratory disasters we have experienced, it is deplorable that there has not been more cooperation between states to facilitate administrative procedures and transit from one country to another, within an appropriate legal framework.

For example, a person who has applied for asylum in France can only legally work six months after filing their asylum application. Moreover, the regularisation process is lengthy, as you must first go to the prefecture before contacting the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons. Arrangements and simplifications were made at the height of the displacement of Ukrainian populations, and some of these practices could be institutionalised with the new immigration bill scheduled for this autumn. The bill details the setting up of asylum centres and changes to deadlines to enable new arrivals to start labour more quickly. It remains to be seen in practice how effective this reform would be and what impact it would have on the people concerned. The EU member states also want to negotiate a new distribution of the reception of migrants on their territories. Unfortunately, the subject of migration is often put on the table for political debate, without any positive progress being made. For example, as part of the new bill announced by the government, Les Républicains party wants to reinstate the offence of illegal residence, which has been abolished for years now, and even no longer applies to European law in this matter.

The combat for a dignified life, like everyone

Despite the harshness of the themes tackled, the filmmakers try to show the protagonists’ moments of laughter and joy through celebrations, which remain beautiful episodes of sharing regardless of social or ethnic origin. In addition, each character has their own love life, with its share of questions and doubts just like anyone else. It is a great way of putting human beings and their sensitivities at the heart of the story. 

Currently available on Disney+, this film was broadcasted on French television in 2017 and attracted 6 million viewers, helping raise public awareness on the subject of migration and its complex realities, which are either poorly treated or underdeveloped in the media. The transmitted information is often incomprehensible or incomplete for citizens who find it difficult to understand the issues surrounding immigration and the myriad life paths which lead to it. 

Translated by Gabriel Capitolo & Léa Grandemange.


JOLY, G. (2018) Accueil des étrangers : la zone d’attente de l’aéroport Roissy-Charles de Gaulle “n’est pas un lieu pour les enfants”. FranceInfo. [online] Available at: [Accessed 27 Jun. 2023].

PARROT, C. (2023) Projet de loi immigration : que proposent les différents groupes sur le droit d’asile ? Franceinfo. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Jun. 2023].

Service public. (2023). Comment obtenir la nationalité française ? [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Jun. 2023].

Odicino, G. (2023). Samba (Comédie dramatique). Télérama. [online] Available at:,489531.php [Accessed 19 Jun. 2023].

Vie Publique. (2023). Immigration : accord des pays de l’UE sur une réforme de l’asile. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Jun. 2023].

Vie Publique. (2023). Projet de loi pour contrôler l’immigration, améliorer l’intégration. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Jun. 2023].

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.