Every community should be so lucky as to have a restaurant like Belle Vie. Community building, in fact, was the stated goal of third-generation restauranteur Vincent Samarco when he moved to Los Angeles from France. With minimal resources, he rented a run-down building on a generic commercial block of Wilshire Boulevard in West Los Angeles, between a MacDonalds and a KFC. He built and decorated as much of the interior as he could, including making his own tables, and opened his Parisian-style bistro in 2016.
By early 2020, Belle Vie (“Good Life”) was doing well. The neighborhood took to it, crowds were steady, and Samarco was using the profits to make improvements. The future was looking good.
That is, until Covid-19 came along.
Filmmaker Marcus Mizelle was a patron of Belle Vie who began filming Samarco’s efforts to keep his business going in the early days of the pandemic. Restaurants around the country struggled in the past few years, but few had it worse than those in California, where state efforts to fight the spread of the disease put so many of them out of business.
A good humored optimist with a likeable personality (and, as he self-deprecatingly notes, a sexy accent), Samarco makes a perfect poster child for the plight of the restaurants industry. When an exception is made for outdoor dining, unlike other owners who spent tens of thousands of dollars building patios, he creates his own using $800 of materials. He saves time by not bothering with permits—“It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.”
Few viewers will be surprised at how the story ends, and the one drawback to Mizelle’s film is that watching Samarco fight to keep Belle Vie afloat is more dramatically engaging than watching him go through the process of closing it down, which takes up 40% of the film. Nonetheless, the film stands as a fine tribute to the spirit of independent businesses and the need for socialization at a time when so many of us are spending more and more time in our homes.