This documentary film is about Belle Vie a small French restaurant situated in an overpriced block in Los Angeles owned by first generation immigrant Vincent Samarco. The otherwise thriving business is challenged by the Covid-19 pandemic that stunned the world in early 2020.
Through filmmaker Marcus Mizzelle’s lens we follow Vincent as he makes frantic efforts to save his business from collapsing under the strains and restrictions of the pandemic.
Vincent talks about his family background and his choice to migrate to the United States in 2016. He explains “What it means to be American it to be a good immigrant”. You can tell from his commit to his business that he hasn’t lost of forgotten where he comes from but is only willing to share what believes in with as many people as he can.
The once thriving business that had regular customers was once full on every night with people enjoying good food and nice live music and force to allow only take outs at the peak of the pandemic. Vincent even commits to still satisfying his customers by building temporal gazebos on the parking lot to be able to set a few tables to serve customers.
If his business fails and closes down, he loses his visa and has to return to France. But he has clearly sunk his feet deep into the land of opportunity and set up a thriving business. He has also found love in beautiful Ornella, another first-generation migrant who has secured her American citizenship.
Throughout the film, you share in Vincent’s emotions. Especially that of anxiety when he’s trying everything, he can to keep the restaurant in business and heartbreak when he is eventually forced to close down. He is hearty and cheerful most of the time but you can imagine the mental struggles he has to deal with.
The film is made up of 35 days of footage shot over a period of 10months. It captures enough details to paint the perfect situation for the entire situation highlighting not only the challenges, but also the few moments of relief for Vincent Samarco.
Vincent talks about his strong believe that businesses like his are very vital to the core of human nature. He believes that humans are meant to be social people and can’t live in isolation and distant from each other forever. And that people would certainly be willing to interact more and socialize just like the days before the pandemic and lockdowns.
He describes himself as a little guy who has a lot of hope and a lot of dreams. As a 3rd generation restaurateur, he cannot afford to fail. His personality and energy are welcoming and inspiring even in the face of adversity.
Whilst facing bankruptcy you can see his resilience and determination he has to keep going. Not just for himself but also for his staff and their customers who have become part of the family. He manages to keep his sense of humor inspire of chaos he is forced to deal with and that is beautiful and heartwarming to see.
Vincent talks about his strong believe that businesses like his are very vital to the core of human nature. He believes that humans are meant to be social people and can’t live in isolation and distant from each other forever. And that people would certainly be willing to interact more and socialize just like the days before the pandemic and lockdowns. He admits at one point that he is tired of fighting but he is holding on.
Director Marcus Mizelle’s film has a warm look and film for an otherwise gloomy situation. At every turn you are looking forward to a positive turnaround of events.
The film also features a brief moment and some interactions with his grandfather George Samarcos in the south of France. He advises Vincent to change his job and not succumb to the stress and pressure that comes with running a restaurant business.
It is great that an honest film like this exists to capture and preserve some the memories that came with the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly from the perspective of a small business owner.
I would score this 4/5 stars. It is worth the watch and certainly something that leaves you hopefully and optimistic about life regardless of how things had to end for Vincent and his restaurant. But that might not be the end for him at all.
He might be defeated and heartbroken now but I hope he does find himself back on his feet again and reestablishes Belle Vie because… yes! Life is beautiful!