• Loren King

‘Belle Vie’ is a Moving Look at One Restaurant’s Pandemic Journey

Director Marcus Mizelle had the sharp instinct to know what a good story and charismatic subject he had in Los Angeles restaurant owner Vincent Samarco.

Mizelle’s documentary “Belle Vie” follows the hard working, ever optimistic Samarco as he struggles to keep his popular, Paris-style bistro on Wilshire Boulevard on the West side of Los Angeles going even as the COVID-19 pandemic forced the shut down restaurants in 2020.

The affable Samarco, a third generation restauranteur, immigrated from France to Los Angeles. On a shoestring budget, he renovated a dilapidated building nestled between a McDonalds and a KFC, turning it into the stylish Belle Vie, meaning beautiful life, which opened in 2016. The film shows Samarco and his wife Ornella establishing roots in the neighborhood; creating a welcome dining experience (warning: don’t watch the film while hungry) with live music and customers’ artwork lining the walls; and providing jobs to fellow French chef Cedric Nicolas and other staff.

Then came Covid in March, 2020. The film tracks Samarco’s efforts to stay afloat, first by selling take out even though he admits French cuisine ins’t like pizza and pasta and doesn’t lend itself to being packaged into containers. He decides to build an outdoor patio in the small parking lot behind Belle Vie, constructing an inviting open space. His humor and entrepreneurial spirit remain intact even after another spike in COVID cases triggers the shut down of even outside dining. Like many small businesses around the country, especially restaurants where the profit margin is already razor thin, the prolonged closures and service limitations are just not sustainable.

“Belle Vie” is a portrait of one Los Angeles restaurant and its engaging owner. But it ends up being a moving story about the loss that the pandemic has meant for individuals and for communities and a testament to resiliency and acceptance.

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