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.
DISCLAIMER: I know the VIFF ended a month ago. I’ll admit I’ve been slow at posting reviews. This is mostly due to attending night classes at a community college. However my writing energy is slowly returning and I will post theses last three VIFF reviews in good time. Hopefully all done before Saturday.
Ghost stories usually make for some cheesy movies. Personal Shopper is one story about a ghost that actually works very well for the cinema.
Maureen has just arrived in Paris. She just accepted a job to be a personal shopper for a high-status fashion journalist in Paris named Kyra. She is able to live at her mansion during her job. She is still able to communicate with her boyfriend in the US despite her distance from him. One important note: Maureen has taken on this job just months after her twin brother died from a heart defect.
One night, Maureen notices something mysterious. Could it be a ghost? She carries on doing her shopping duties normally like nothing happened. However incidents keep coming. She starts to question them. Then one day, she gets a text message from a mysterious person. That could be the ghost. You know the texts are upsetting her each and every time. However, she does agree to play along with the requests of the mysterious texter. She even agrees to wear one of the dresses she bought for Kyra.
Maureen senses that this has something to do about her brother’s death. Could the ghost actually be her brother. The ghost even follows Maureen to the various locations she goes to. Then one day, she finds Kyra dead as if she was brutally murdered. Then she agrees to comply to the texter’s request to go to a hotel. The morning after, we see the ghost vacate the hotel. Maureen is still alive. Maureen decides to go on a vacation to a remote location is Saudi Arabia. Whatever happens, she’s prepared to meet the ghost whom she believes to be her brother.
There have been movies about ghost stories before but most come across as ridiculously cheesy. This is one ghost story that has substance to it, and a lot of it. We have Maureen dealing with the loss of her twin brother. She appears to be handling it well but imperfectly. You’re led to think that the ghost is exposing a truth about how her brother’s death is affecting Maureen. In addition, this is a ghost that affects her through the text messages he sends. It’s obvious he will do whatever it takes to get what he wants out of Maureen.
Basically the thing that gives this ghost movie its substance is that it does relate to human feelings. It’s obvious this ghost has a bearing on Maureen. However as the story progresses, it leaves the audience asking as many questions as Maureen is asking right now. This is no run-of-the-mill movie ghost. This is a ghost that has us intrigued and wondering what will happen next. Will Maureen learn of the ghost’s identity? Will Maureen get killed or hurt? The story keeps us intrigued.
If there’s one weakness, it’s that the story appears to end either twice or three times. I know most people would anticipate the hotel scene to be the climactic end but instead it leads to another story. It’s like the story goes places but stalls. Even the actual ending comes across as abrupt. I know a lot of directors try to end their films unexpectedly as a chance for the audience to draw their own conclusions but this ending was too abrupt and unclear.
The film is a very good effort from writer/director Olivier Assayas. He has created a very good story that keeps us all intrigued. However the flaws at the end are too obvious. Still a very good work. Kristen Stewart does a very good job of acting here. A lot of people have dismissed her acting since the Twilight movies. It turns out her bad acting was because of bad direction. Even before Twilight, she showed she can deliver a good acting job. Remember 2002’s Panic Room? It’s obvious Kristen has something to prove and she’s been proving it since starting with 2014’s Clouds Of Sils Maria, also directed by Olivier Assayas. Kristen delivers possibly her best and possibly deepest performance yet. A bit of ironic trivia: in Assayas’ next work, Idol’s Eye, he will be working with Kristen’s former Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson. Can he resuscitate his career too?
Back to the topic of the film, Stewart is the only person who’s given any real acting in the film. For the most part, the other actors are given comparatively lightweight work. That will happen when the protagonist is mostly acting off of a ghost throughout most of the film.
Personal Shopper is for the most part a one-person film that ends too abruptly. Nevertheless it has a lot of excellent qualities that give the film dimension and will keep the audience intrigued.
My Week With Marilyn is an adventurous comedy of a young man assisting on the set of a Marilyn Monroe movie. What we get is an interestingly adenturous story and a lot more.
Before Colin Clark became a successful British documentarian, he was dazzled by the movies and movie stars, including Marilyn. That didn’t rest well with his upper class family who felt that the movie business wouldn’t get him anywhere. Then in 1956, he hears the news that Marilyn Monroe is coming to England to film The Prince And The Showgirl. How could he turn down an opportunity to work on the set of a film like that?
Once he arrives on the set, Laurence Olivier arrives, Vivien Leigh arrives, Sybil Thorndike arrives and Marilyn arrives with her acting coach Paula Strasberg and husband Arthur Miller. Working with Marilyn is not easy as she often misses her cues and easily loses her confidence in believing she can do a good job. The other actors like Olivier, Leigh and Thorndike find her difficult to work with. The pressure is soon adding up on Marilyn, both physically and emotionally. In the meantime, Colin is winning the attractions of young costume girl Lucy.
Arthur Miller then leaves England for a short while. Marilyn decides to take a break from the pressures of filmmaking and movie stardom and finds her escape through having Colin escort her. Colin takes her around the countryside, around Eton College where he was educated in, just about everywhere every day. During the time, Marilyn develops an attraction to the young Clark and the two have a short affair. During the time, Clark learns that Marilyn is a hurting woman: burdened by a difficult childhood and often feeling like a failure as an actress. This goes on for the week. During the whole escapade, he forgets about his date with Lucy. The filming end after a week and Marilyn leaves England for Hollywood. Colin is left with an experience he’ll never forget.
The unique thing about this movie is that it’s not just a young man’s adventure with Marilyn Monroe but also an intimate look at a screen legend who epitomizes the beauty and charm of Hollywood but also epitomizes Hollywood tragedy. Marilyn was made into a beauty that excelled in Hollywood. Nevertheless she always wanted to be taken seriously for her talent. She relied on her coaching from Lee and Paula Strasberg and often felt like a failure. Interesting bit of trivia is that Marilyn is the biggest Hollywood star never to be nominated for an Oscar. Never! As a person, she had problems getting over her difficult past out being raised unloved by her mother. It would be an ordeal she’d go through throughout her whole life. She would eventually take her own life six years later.
The funny thing about the movie is that it wasn’t just about the empty feeling of Marilyn but also the empty feeling of actors in general. During Colin’s time on the set, he also dealt with Sir Laurence Olivier: an actor beloved for his mastery of great roles. He was the accomplished actor while Marilyn was the popular star. Nevertheless he too felt an emptiness of his own. He wanted the movie star acclaim that Marilyn had. That should surprise just about everybody. That’s a very common theme in this movie: an actor’s insecurities, traumas and feelings of emptiness. It hits movie stars like Marilyn and it hit great actors like Sir Laurence.
The most shocking thing is that we would learn from Laurence is that Marilyn’s traumas and insecurities are what make her the actress and legend that she is. It’s not that uncommon that we celebrate entertainers who are troubled and traumatized and all too often, their traumas and troubles make them the greats that they are.
It’s obvious Colin never forgot his experiences of this. He would release his diaries under the title The Prince, The Showgirl and Me and memoirs titled My Week With Marilyn. Both would provide the material for this film. It should be noted that the diaries were made into a television documentary in 2004, one year after Clark’s death.
The biggest strengths of the film have to be the performances of Michelle Williams as Marilyn and Kenneth Branagh as Olivier. They weren’t just performances of the two acting legends but very deep parts. They made the two actors three dimensional and they stand out as two of the best acting performances of the year. The performance of Eddie Redmanye as the young Colin Clark was good but lacked depth. It was a simple role not as Colin Clark but as a twentysomething. Emma Watson’s part as the costume girl Lucy was simple but she is able to make you forget that she is Hermione Granger.
Outside of the acting, nothing much else stood out. The direction of Simon Curtis and the writing of Adrian Hodges were good and flawless but not spectacular. Nevertheless it did make for an enjoyable comedy. In addition, I commend Curtis for directing an excellent first feature. In essence, it was a semibiographical movie whose best assets were the acting performances.
My Week With Marilyn is a surprising look at a screen legend. Make that two screen legends, and the young rising documentarian who witnessed it all. If you like legendary actors, you’ll like this movie and will leave surprised.