Félicité Screen 13 articles



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  • Every now and then, to the strains of a local orchestra and choir performing music by Arvo Pärt, we get interludes depicting the protagonist wandering through the bush by night – dreamlike or even symbolic scenes evidently meant to evoke something of her magical inner life, not to say a search for peace (represented by communion with an animal). Moreover, as in the Kaurismäki movie, there is in the closing scenes a touch of utopianism, as problems are overcome or obstacles simply put aside.

  • The weakest formal device involves the series of recurring dreams (or are they visions?) that sees Félicité shrouded in darkness and wandering into wooded areas and bodies of water... These scenes present an abstruse portrait of Félicité’s mindset. They also detract from a more focused examination of the economic and medical systems, not to mention the social conflicts, that placed the woman in such a harrowing position in the first place.

  • Overlong, with too many repeated beats, Gomis’s is a film of many hues, with surreal, symbolic flashbacks, local color (a very real traffic robot) glimpsed during motorbike and car rides, and the ever-present medicine of music in the air.

  • The storytelling is a bit wobbly, and, especially in the latter scenes, drawn-out almost to the point of exhaustion. But the languid pacing is partially compensated for by the moments of poetry that Gomis scatters throughout the film – whether in the concert scenes where the Kasai Allstars rock out to a back alley crowd, or scenes of the Symphonic Orchestra of Kinshasa performing in an old warehouse space, offering up amateur renditions of pieces by Arvo Part and other composers.

  • A strange, over-stretched film, it’s something like an African version of the Dardenne brothers, punctuated with impressionistic dream passages, plus interpretations of Arvo Pärt by the Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra. It was the most challenging title in competition, but it was hard to ignore and often mesmerising.

  • The film does not spare its viewers the ugliness of poverty, corruption, or patriarchal aggression. But neither does Gomis depict those systems of oppression as immutable faîts accompli. This is a complex work of portraiture, tinged with both strength and deep despair.

  • Ultimately what stains your brain is the wild wailing alto of lead actress Véro Tshanda Beya. She translates the joy and despair of the drunks in the club where she sings on those endless nights, before floating somewhere above their heads and dissolving into an otherworldly ether.

  • Though the second half turns somewhat diffuse, Gomis’ tough and vibrant understanding of romance and struggle scarcely falters. Neither does his sense of wonder toward his indomitable leading lady: Riding in the back of a motorcycle, Beya might be Gong Li in Zhang Yimou’s The Story of Qiu Ju or one of Satyajit Ray’s proud women, all too aware of the peril and autonomy of living day to day and song to song.

  • The indomitable heroine, facing down one humiliation after another and all number of venal officials, eventually begins to withdraw—into herself, into a copse that may exist only in her dreams. However porous the boundary between reality and fantasy may be in Félicité, the film, grounded by Mputu’s intricate weariness, never falters.

  • Céline Bozon’s cinematography captures the crush of the daytime crowd just as deftly as it dips its toes into endless, allusive night, and Félicité alluringly oscillates from the high-energy, casually tragic reality of the street to the faintly phantasmagorical serenity of the nocturnal realm and back again. These two worlds are bridged by a wealth of music... effectively clarifying what’s at stake in Gomis’ film: a not-at-all corny case for art as an instrument of peace and a means of survival.

  • The movie is, in part, a musical, featuring exhilarating performances by Beya and her band in night-club scenes roiled with dance, alcohol, and eros, and perched on the edge of violence—but it’s all the more an incisive work of sociopolitical analysis, focussed on the health-care system of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As a result, it’s a painfully timely film for American viewers.

  • Expressive, almost dreamlike dissolves figure in a particularly fraught homecoming scene. There are shots of an orchestra and a choir in Kinshasa rehearsing, and eventually performing, works by Arvo Pärt. There are scenes in which Félicité wanders a night forest alone. None of these tendrils feel affected, though. And Mr. Gomis has a sharp ear for the alarming way in which romantic transactions are negotiated between men and women in this milieu.

  • Alain Gomis' FÉLICITÉ, an immersive, celebratory work of magical realism, won the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival; it's also the first ever submission by Senegal for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. It can be a harrowing film, but it's also a joyous and vibrant one.

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