Monday, October 23, 2017

FÉLICITÉ: Alain Gomis' DRC-set character/ culture/music study opens in theaters

You'll undoubtedly be taken -- and almost immediately -- with the face, body, and soon the voice of Véro Tshanda Beya, the woman who makes her acting debut in the title role of FÉLICITÉ, the new movie from French filmmaker Alain Gomis.

Ms Beya is, by any standard, quite a woman, and for awhile at least, she is enough to keep us on track in this combination character-and-culture study set in the city of Kinshasha in the Democratic Republic of Congo, aka the DRC or sometimes the DROC.

M. Gomis, shown at left (this is the first of his several films that TrustMovies has seen), strikes me as someone given to creating an impressionistic, rather than a solidly grounded, linear and easily-read creation. His movie begins at a Congolese indoor-outdoor night club at which our heroine is a singer.

Her face, so expressive that you want to read it like a map, sits atop a body seemingly made for amour. The snippets of dialog we hear from the crowd at the night club involve everything from sex to politics to the economics of everyday life.

The next morning, however, Félicité is seen haggling angrily and determinedly with a repairman regarding why her refrigerator -- only just repaired -- has ceased to work again. From every interaction in which our girl is involved, she comes across as proud, poised, fierce and independent.

Until that is, she is informed that her teenage son Samo -- a character (played by another newcomer, Gaetan Claudia, above) we did not until now even know existed -- has been in an accident and may die. Suddenly all has changed and Félicité spends most of the rest of the film racing around trying desperately to raise enough money to get Samo his necessary operation.

Health care in the DRC might make you grateful, momentarily at least, for our own here in the USA, and as we watch our heroine beg, bargain and get stolen from (she must bring in the police regarding the latter matter), you'll be put in touch with what, from all we view here, passes for Congolese bourgeois life and culture. The lengthy scene in which Félicité meets with someone whom I am guessing is the town's big-shot criminal is scary, degrading and quite powerful.

In between all this, Gomis inserts something like dream/fantasy/maybe memories sequences that finally grow repetitive and don't tell us much more than we already know. And then there are the music scenes, both in the club and with a group that seem to be either rehearsing and performing elsewhere. The press information on the film explains that the music acts as "a secondary script that transports us through Félicité's journey" -- a double journey, actually, "through the punishing outer world of the city and the inner world of the soul."

If only any of this seemed at all organic. Instead the movie clunks along from reality to memory to music and back again in an all-too-obvious and repetitive routine. Love enters the picture, too, as Félicité must finally give over some of that independence, even as young Samo seems to be finally coming around to health and maybe even a touch of happiness.

You may have more patience for this unusual film than did I. Its leading lady is certainly something, while the supporting performances seem believable, as well. I suspect that the main reason I could not warm up to this movie more easily is because the culture of the place simply seemed too foreign in too many ways. If there are actual rules in place here in the DCR -- economic, legal, social and more -- I couldn't begin to figure them out. 

From Strand Releasing and running too-long at 124 minutes, Félicité opens this Friday, October 27, in New York City at the Quad Cinema and in Atlanta at the High Museum of Art. On November 10 it opens in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Music Hall 3. To see all currently scheduled playdates, theaters and cities, click here, then click on SCREENINGS and scroll down. 

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