Sam (2014) / Drama
MPAA Rated: Not rated, but probably R for language
Running Time: 85 min.
Cast: Frederic Landenberg, Sacha Guerreiro (Hazanov), Severine Bujard, Isabelle Caillat, Anna Pieri
Director: Elena Hazanov
Screenplay: Georges Guerreiro
Review published February 2, 2014
The titular character is a seven-year-old boy (Guerreiro) with a few adjustment problems following the divorce of his parents. Sam's mother is leaving to Paris on a work assignment, so she sends the lad to stay for a while with his emotionally distant father Gerome (Landenberg), a struggling writer dealing with an acute lack of creative output, mounting debts, and alcoholism. Both of them dealing with a difficult time in their lives, they ruffle each others feathers quite often. As they struggle to find a connection, they soon discover that underneath the pent-up internal struggles, love can still motivate.
Sam is played by Sacha Guerreiro, the real-life son of the divorced parents who made the film, director Elena Hazanov and screenwriter Georges Guerreiro. Never having acted before, Sacha is fantastic, having beaten out other professional child actors to get the part, and delivering a performance that feels quite authentic and natural, and often endearing and comical. Around Guerreiro is a quality cast of actors, with most of the screen time going to his father Gerome, played with great skill by Frederic Landenberg, who comes off as bristly and wracked with stagnation, only to finally begin to come out of his shell once he realizes that he can indeed care for someone again. He just hopes it isn't too late.
Though a relatively small French-language Swiss film, shot in 20 days, Sam is handsomely photographed by Leandro Monti, with a lovely Nicolas Rabaeus score. Hazanov wonderfully captures the small moments, shooting adults with close-ups that often reveal how large and imposing they can seem from the eyes of a young child. It's also a rare film that captures what children often do when unsupervised by adults, including talking to their toys, trading Pokemon cards and the like, and teasing one another in ways that are sometimes all too hurtful. Although it is a work of fiction, it strikes subtle, honest chords in ways most Hollywood films gloss completely over.
But the real appeal of the film is the quality of the acting, which at times feels as if we're watching snippets of a real-life family, even though the film is scripted. Perhaps its natural feel shouldn't come as too much of a surprise given that an actual separated family is responsible for the making of the film, which makes it not only truthful in terms of what it must feel like to try to bond with a son whom you only see on certain occasions, but also a bit touching on another level in that the real-life family has come together to make something special, despite the dissolution of their marriage, that speaks from their hearts. Just like the young main character, Sam, the movie, is a charmer.
©2014 Vince Leo