The French directing duo follow up their huge hit Intouchables with Samba, starring Omar Sy as an African immigrant in Paris who falls in love with his immigration worker.

Tahar Rahim co-stars.

The film, the French directing duo’s fifth feature together, made its world premiere here in Toronto. Gaumont handles international sales with CAA representing US rights.

How did you meet?

Nakache: We met in summer camp in France almost 20 years ago. I was 17 and I heard there was a guy who always talked about Woody Allen movies. I was a very big Woody Allen fan already. We connected that way, and from there we grew up together…together we were mad about cinema.

How do you decide what topics interest you equally?

Toledano: It’s very hard to find a subject and approach that we share. As we get older, we have different points of view. We need to find the things we’re going to grow together. After Intouchables we met with Working Title in London, and they suggested some pitches, and they were hot but then suddenly very cold. We didn’t find that good feeling we need. So we decided to go back to our own preoccupations. We like to take a touchy subject, like immigration, and put our take on it. When we read this book by Delphine Couli, it was like a spark to us.

This is the first film role that I’ve realised how big, physically, Omar Sy is.

Nakache: We liked the idea that they would be physically very different. He is this huge guy and she (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is very fragile. This thing motivated the plot. Also we worked with him to move in a certain way, like he was a heavy person.

It’s a very different role for him. He is playing a shy, sensitive guy.

Toledano: We have so much affection for Omar. We ere thinking like an agent for him, where we can show to people how great he is…when Omar takes a role he has something from himself that he brings. He had a special nuance, better than what we wrote.

How do you balance the seriousness of the topic of immigration and the comedy you add into it?

Nakache: We wanted to be very realistic, we wanted credibility.

We worked with associations, we went to see the detention center. After this reality, we can put on comedy on these things. We wanted to talk about this social context with hope and positive thinking.

Toledano: We start the movie perhaps a little bit more serious at this detention centre, in the immigration line. We have 20 minutes of not a really funny movie. If we are realistic it allows us to go into comedy later. If the roots are okay, we can have these flowers that are lighter. It’s important to have the reality to open it.

This is our common point, we think like this. We think life has good moments and bad moments. Cinema doesn’t have to be this idea that you are drama and you are comedy [separately]. We always love the mix.

Did you always know there would be a romantic angle?

Nakache: It was our ambition from the beginning to make new things. We’ve never done a romance before, so we wanted a new story for us. The social aspect is secondary. We are playing with the code of romantic comedies.

Do you plan to move into English-language work?

Toledano: We are excited by English and American actors right now.

Nakache: We’d love to direct in the English language, maybe bring together French and American actors… we need to find the good idea that’s right for us.

Toledano: CAA sends us many projects for consideration. But to do our first English-language project, we have to feel it from the inside, we have to write it probably.

Nakache: We try to enjoy the release of Samba. After that we’ll talk about the next one.

Toledano: It’s our fifth movie, I think we are going to start a new cycle now. Perhaps with a different language, perhaps with a different style.

The success of Intouchables gave us the opportunity to try something new. Samba is not just a comedy, it’s not just a buddy movie. We want to keep going and find new directions.

Was it crippling to try to follow-up something as successful as Intouchables?

Nakache: We tried to take only the positive things [from the success of Intouchables]. If we think about the pressure of it, about numbers of admissions, it would be impossible to move on.  It was huge and that was great for us.

Toledano: We don’t want to be fake humble. We try to keep astonished by it.

Do you plan to keep working together as a duo?

Nakache: Yes. I don’t know how it works, but it works. If you have a conflict, we have one rule, “We try everything.” It’s important to share.  We are really different, that’s why it works. We stimulate each other. My first goal every morning on set is to make Eric laugh.