Directed by Alain Gomis
Country: Senegal / France / other
“Félicité” rejoices with the vivid colors and the enthralling sounds of Africa, but also saddens us with the deep struggles of the local ordinary people, here represented by the title character (Véro Mputu), a single mother and a respected singer in Kinshasa, Congo. She manages to live a tranquil life until her 14-year-old son, Samo (Gaetan Claudia), has suffered a motorcycle accident that puts her on the verge of a breakdown. He needs an urgent and costly operation to save his smashed leg, but Félicité doesn't have how to pay for it. In a desperate situation, she puts away any embarrassment or pride and hits the road to get financial help. She first goes to her son’s resentful father, who violently accuses her of having created a thug, and then to the wealthiest man in town, who, after demeaning her, gives her a little money out of contempt. These scenes truly hurt, showing how inconsiderate and disdainful a human being can act before a vulnerable person.
Meanwhile, we learn that Félicité died at the age of two, suddenly awaking from the world of the dead when she was already in the coffin. Her name, meaning ‘our joy’, was given to her after that inscrutable occurrence.
The only friend she can count on is Tabu (Papi Mpaka), a regular customer of the bar where she sings, who loves the nightlife and ends up repeatedly involved in quarrels. Despite nurturing deep feelings for her, he is not so reliable with regard to women, especially when wasted. A faulty person, for sure. Yet, observing the respect he has for her pain, we almost forget his vices.
French-Senegalese writer-director Alain Gomis packs the drama as a compound of vibrancy, intoxication, dejection, and anguish, resorting to sharp close-ups and likable imagery. However, some sloppiness was detected when dealing with the handheld camera. Some of the passages are particularly appealing, like those fragments of conversations in the bar with the topics varying from women to booze to children kills and spiritual life. There’s also some surrealism in the form of dreamy, enigmatic passages in a forest that are a fruit of the heroine's imagination. Its mysticism is meant to blur the line between the imaginary and the real.
Although orchestrated with powerful notes, “Félicité” shows some uneven parts, which make the narrative drag for certain periods of time. Still, it elaborates an honest portrait of an independent African woman who, even in the most intractable situations, keeps the life going with resilient obstinacy.
With the newcomer Véro Mputu onboard, Gomis didn’t restrain himself from sailing this boat with courage and emotion. By expeditiously capturing the moods of the city, he passes the idea of an undermined society within an undisciplined country.