The Movie Waffler New Release Review - FELICITE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - FELICITE

felicite film review
A singer attempts to raise the money for her son's operation.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Alain Gomis

Starring: Vero Tshanda Beya Mputu, Gaetan Claudia, Papi Mpaka, Nadine Ndebo, Elbas Manuana

felicite film poster

With Felicite, director Alain Gomis attempts to do for modern day Kinshasa what Robert Altman did for 1930s' Kansas City in the 1996 film that bore that American city's name. Like Altman's film, Gomis's spins a tale of a woman forced to take desperate measures to save the life of a loved one, while treating us to a series of musical performances that reflect the vibrant nature of the setting.

felicite film

Making her acting debut is Vero Tshanda Beya Mputu as the eponymous Felicite, a strong-willed to the point of stubbornness woman who ekes out a living as a singer, performing in raucous bars in the Congolese capital. When her teenage son is involved in a motorcycle accident, Felicite is faced with a hefty bill for the required operation. Hitting the manic streets of Kinshasa, Felicite attempts to acquire the necessary funds, calling in debts, asking for favours and explicitly begging for cash.

This forms roughly the first half of Gomis's film, and its protagonist's battle to negotiate red tape and human nature recalls such recent films as Ken Loach's I, Daniel Blake and the Dardennes' Two Days, One Night. Perhaps the finest example of this type of narrative is Ken Hughes' sadly now forgotten 1963 drama The Small World of Sammy Lee, in which Anthony Newley plays a wiseass strip club compere forced to dash around Soho in an attempt to raise the money he owes to a violent loan shark.

felicite film

Gomis doesn't offer a whole lot we haven't seen in such scenarios before, but he makes good use of the unique atmosphere of Kinshasa, and the mix of modern capitalism and traditional bartering that fuels the economy of the African capital. The most visceral scene comes when Felicite literally risks her life by invading the home of a local gangster and demanding he make a financial contribution to her cause.

At times, Felicite is her own worst enemy, trusting a stranger to pick up a prescription with her cash and delaying her son's operation through her insistence that he be moved to a more expensive private ward. While we root for her cause, she's a difficult figure to warm to, and an even more difficult one to get your head around. Mputu plays her as something of a blank canvas, expressing emotion physically, raising hands and collapsing in spasms, but with a constant poker face. I never could figure out if this was a symptom of the performer's inexperience or a genuine character detail, but either way it frustrated me throughout.

felicite film

In Felicite's second half, the focus shifts somewhat to a secondary character, Tabu (Papi Mpaka), a burly handyman who seems to have an unrequited crush on the titular anti-heroine, but similarly we never really get a handle on who this person is, and again I'm unsure if it's simply down to the amateur nature of the performance. It would be unfair however to lay the blame for Felicite's faults at the feet of its non-professional cast, as the very experienced Gomis fails to make this derivative but potentially insightful drama as engaging as it really needs to be.

Felicite is in UK cinemas November 10th.