The frenzied, raucous opening scenes of Félicité set the scene for what is about to unfold. While her story might lack tangible joy, Véro Tshanda Beya as the title character shows Félicité’s desperation and fortitude in a performance that anchors the somewhat slight yet entirely engaging narrative.
Félicité is a nightclub singer in Kinshasa. Her work grants her a reasonable living, although her home life speaks of what much of the world would consider to be abject poverty. The job also grants her a certain amount of adoration, which she stoically accepts. She is not an emotionally demonstrative woman, though not speaking her mind would be unthinkable to her. Her fortitude is put to the test when her son Samo (Gaetan Claudia) is in a brutal motorcycle accident, leaving Félicité to barter and beg her way to obtain the earth-shattering amount of money that must be provided before the doctors will operate.
It might sound rather grim, but there is an underlying optimism to Félicité as she resigns herself to what must be done. Véro Tshanda Beya is astonishing in the role. The character is not always likeable on many levels, and her belligerence can be grating, while still being perfectly understandable. Tshanda Beya performs her own vocals, and these scenes shimmer with a vibrancy that contrasts against the dour tasks that await her.
Director Alain Gomis shoots Kinshasa in all its grimy glory, making the city seem unapologetically ragged. It’s a place where many lives have little value. Casual violence is offered and used almost unthinkingly, and the roadside stands that sell floral arrangements for funerals seem to do a bustling trade. To go through hardships in a place where hardships are all too common makes the city feel almost like another character in the movie. It’s curious (and gratifying) that a film that could easily be an exercise in human misery retains such a feeling of buoyancy.
Félicité does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch the trailer for Félicité here: