Belle Vie

At the heart of Marcus Mizelle’s Belle Vie is Vincent Samarco, a passionate French immigrant whose warm and jovial demeanor has you fully invested in his difficult journey bringing his restaurant Belle Vie (meaning “the good life”) to his Los Angeles community. Slideshows of close-up images detail the delicious food that he so finely crafts. Mizelle’s film is a medley of small, intimate observations into Samarco’s domestic life, family history, and relationships with his workers— all of the human details that go into his trade. 

Belle Vie is not your average food documentary as it explores the impact of COVID-19 on hardworking restauranters like Samarco. Despite all of the struggles to remain open during California’s harsh restrictions, Samarco maintains a positivity that is inspiring.  He reflects on the importance of restaurants and other public institutions to find kinship and camaraderie with others. Belle Vie was the heart of many people’s lives, a space for good music, conversation, and meeting new friends. In this modern age of remote work and staring in front of our computer screens all day, Samarco’s heartfelt interviews about the virtues of human connection are quite moving to hear. 

One of the unique things that Samarco did during the pandemic was let patrons contribute their favorite memories on a chalk drawing that looked like the inside of Belle Vie covering the facade of the restaurant. Mizelle’s combination of talking head interviews and fly-on-the-wall shots of Samarco and his wife Ornella is very engaging, especially as they fight to keep Belle Vie open while the state piles on more and more constraints. Samarco’s earnest love of cooking and community, as well as his good-natured presence, makes Belle Vie an uplifting work in spite of the disheartening ending. Through its hardworking and cheerful main subject, the affectionate documentary Belle Vie delivers a powerful message about persevering despite the worst and most uncertain of times. It is exactly the kind of comfort food we need in this post-pandemic world. 

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