Félicité

Félicité

Image by Félicité

Daniel Nelson

Félicité is fascinating – for some. For others, a bewildering bore.

Even I, engrossed by its tale of the travails of a Congolese singer and single mother and its gimlet-eyed glances at life in an African city, would have been happy had it been a little shorter.

Félicité, memorably played by Congolese singer-turned-actress Véro Tshanda Beya, is a force of nature who tries to play by her own rules in a game that's stacked against her. The task becomes even harder when her 14-year-old son is badly injured in a road accident and the clock starts ticking in a frantic race against time to raise money for medicine and an operation.

She tries everyone she knows in a series of increasingly desperate confrontations – customers in the seedy bar in which she sings, her fellow band members, her alienated mother (“How did you end up this ugly?”), her angry ex-partner, people around town who owe her money. She even blags her way into the house of a Mr Big where she has to fight to stop herself being dragged feet-first back to the street.

The relationships, personal and business, are fascinating as are the glimpses of everyday life – a hue and cry when alleged thieves are chased through a market; the roughness of the roads as soon as the tarmac stops; the casual corruption of the policeman she pays to silently threaten her creditors; the cruel dishonesty of an elderly woman who cons money from her by buying medicine so she can stay by her son's hospital bed.

Through her vicissitudes Félicité negotiates a relationship with a womanising, heavy-drinking admirer, who also plays a key role in a running joke about Félicité's broken fridge.

The film's triumph is that despite the harshness of aspects of life in Kinshasa, the sense of residents living on a precipice over which they can suddenly be pitched by illness or bad luck, and despite the flaws and weaknesses of the people trying to carve out lives there, this is no misery memoire: Franco-Senegalese director Alain Gomis also gives it mystery, humour, sensuality, gentleness, poetry, music (in the shape of the Kasai Allstars and, for less obbvious reasons, the Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra) and, aboe all, humanity.

Yes, the final third is too long, but overall it's an absorbing African journey.

 

* Félicité is showing at the London Film Festival 2017 on 8 and 9 October.

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