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Lulu Wang (The Farewell)
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NYFF: Félicité, the Real and the Fanciful

by Murtada

Set in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo - a country which has seen a lot of strife in its recent history - Félicité is the new film from Alain Gomis, a French director of Guinea-Bissauan and Senegalese descent. It tells the story of its eponymous heroine, a singer trying to put a life together and barely making it work. The first few scenes establishe Félicité’s daily grind. She sings nights in a makeshift bar, comes home to tiny place. Her fridge is not working, she needs someone to fix it. Yet money is scarce so she has to make do with a local guy who’s obviously not the right person for the job.

Things start taking a turn for the worse when her teenage son is seriously injured in an accident...

He’s in the hospital but not in a good room; there’s a nurse but she’s waiting for Félicité to buy the medicine before she’ll take care of him. He could be in a better room, he could be operated on; only if Félicité pays up first. Just like her fridge, to fix this situation she needs more resources than are readily available. So she goes in search of money. Collecting debts, reluctantly accepting help from co-workers; even begging.

I knew going into the film that I’d be moved by Félicité’s plight. What I didn’t know is how astonished I’d be by where her journey takes us. For this is not just a search for money to help her son. This is also Félicité’s search for herself. For peace. For a contented soul. While the first journey is real and palpable and takes us to heartbreaking places, the latter is fanciful and surprising and pierces the imagination. Goomis makes bold choices in story structure and finds a place for lyricism and mystical interludes. He’s got such a sure hand with all these different rhythms living together in one film.

Véro Tshanda Beya Mputu is a force in the lead role. The musical interludes where Félicité sings, showcase that. She’s ferocious at first, then her singing gets dampened as her situation worsens. Then becomes alive again as she finds some joy and acceptance. Félicité’s a performer. Performing to an audience is in her arsenal of tricks, giving the scenes where she collects her debts or begs for help an added dramatic urgency. The emotions are so forceful, that when there’s no translation in some instances, what’s transpiring is still crystal clear.

Félicité might feel like two movies in one but both parts are ravishing, both unmissable.

Grade: A

Félicité screens at the New York Film Festival on October 4 and 5.

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Reader Comments (2)

Thanks for you coverage of this film :)

September 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie

Loved this film at the Sydney Film Festival. Very nice review

September 25, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMario

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