VIFF 2017 Review: Félicité
Félicité appears to be a film about an African woman who sings in bars to make a living, but it’s a lot more.
Félicité is a woman living in DR Congo. The film begins with her waiting for the result on a repair for her refrigerator. It needs a new fan and it will cost. She then goes to the local bar to perform her music. That’s how Félicité makes her money, by singing. The bar is mostly locals. The repairman Tabu is one of those who catches her performance. However the bar has a lot of roughness and fights are frequent.
One day, her 14 year-old son is hospitalized. He was in a motorcycle crash. His leg is so badly injured, an operation is needed or else it will be amputated. Félicité is told she needs 1,000,000 Congolese Francs in order for the operation to happen. Singing from bar to bar is not enough. Félicité first tries locals who know her, but gets either little money or negative flack. Félicité then goes around the richer areas of Kinshasa posing as family members asking for money.
She’s close to the amount she needs, but it’s too late. The leg became so terribly bruised, amputation was needed. Félicité is shattered. However she develops a loving relationship with the repairman Tabu after he successfully repairs her fridge. He’s able to give the comfort she needs. She develops the confidence to start singing with an elite choir in a college as a hobby. Tabu is also able to talk to Samo and instill in him the confidence to live again.
Tabu again returns to one of Félicité‘s shows, but leaves with another woman. Félicité sees him the next day. She is very unhappy with him, but admits her heart is still with him. Félicité returns to singing in night clubs and singing with the high choir.
The way this film is made is common what one would have for a French film. There’s a storyline with a beginning, middle and end, but there’s also a lot in the background that adds greatly to the story. We see it in Félicité‘s singing. She sings the common African songs in the bars. She also sings gracefully in the elite choir. A lot of what she sings about in the night clubs is the struggle of African people in their daily lives and she belts out her emotions when she sings. A lot of what she sings in the high-class choir is graceful and gives acclaim to God and acclaim to life. Singing is not just a profession for Félicité; it’s a way of life.
Another background element of the film is Félicité‘s life and the lives of all those around her. She exhibits the struggles common of African women of trying to raise a child and trying to make pay. There are many scenes where you see Félicité walking down the streets of Kinshasa. Often the film shows about the difficulty of those living in the DR Congo, or Africa as a whole. We’re talking about a country with a very low wage and people struggling very hard to make ends meet no matter how much or how little they get. The 1,000,000 francs Félicité needs for her son’s operation translates to $650 American dollar. It may not sound like too much to you and me, but it’s almost two years income for the average Congolese. Even seeing how Félicité poses as a family member to rich people in their gated and locked houses shows the rich-poor divide in the country. Often I felt when I was watching Félicité, I was seeing a glimpse of African life.
Alain Gomis does a very good job of storytelling here in this film he directed and co-wrote with Olivier Loustau and Delphine Zingg. Gomis himself is a French director of Senegalese parents. You can see this story is personal to him too. He does a very good job of telling Félicité‘s story while giving people a god look at what life in Africa is like. Véro Tshanda Beya Mputu does a very good job in her debut role. She was able to play Félicité like she is the African ‘everywoman.’ Papi Mpaka also plays Tabu very well. At first, Tabu is just there in Félicité‘s presence, but soon becomes part of her life and her son’s life. It’s like he come from nowhere to be what Félicité needed. The music is one of the biggest elements of the film. The film may be about a night club singer but the music Félicité engages in says a lot about the film and about life in Africa in all its joys and heartaches.
Félicité is a four-nation film collaboration of Senegal, Belgium, France and Lebanon. The film is Senegal’s official submission in the category of Best Foreign Language Film for the 2017 Academy Awards. This is the first time the nation of Senegal has ever submitted an entry into this category. The film won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film festival, won a Human Rights In Cinema award at the Istanbul Film Festival and was nominated for Best Film at the Sydney Film Festival and the Chicago International Film Festival.
Félicité is a film that doesn’t just dimply tell a story. It gives a glimpse into the difficulties of life in Africa.