Alain Gomis is a Franco-Senegalese filmmaker whose feature Félicité follows Kinshasa bar singer Félicité – flawlessly portrayed by Congolese actor Vero Tshanda Beya whose only previous acting was on the stage. The story unfolds around her struggle as a proud and independent woman desperately hunting down the money she needs to pay for her teenage son Samo’s (Gaetan Claudia) medical treatment. Her straight-on, unwavering gaze is so piercing and almost hypnotic.
The music provided by local Kinshasa collective the Kasai Allstars – comprised of four or five different bands – and accompanied by Tshanda’s powerful vocals is electrifying. Their traditional and urban sounds meld together to create a unique and unforgettable experience. On the opposite side of the musical spectrum is the Kinshasa Symphony Orchestra, whose interpretation of Fratres by Arvo Pärt is a pleasant surprise especially since they are an amateur orchestra. The editing and sound editing effectively portray Félicité’s mindset and add a bit of a mystical quality to the shots of her walking alone in the dark forest.
The way Gomis and French cinematographer Céline Bozon shoot the Kinshasa bar scenes is riveting. Through the camera movements and angles the energy becomes potent and frenzied, particularly in the earlier scenes. As the Kasai Allstars play in the opening bar scene, the camera slowly settles on close-ups of various patrons and eventually on Félicité while she is sitting alone at a table. In a few moments, Félicité joins the bands and she vivaciously sings while surrounded by drunken men showering her with money when they aren’t busy grabbing at young waitresses or violently beating obnoxious drunkards, most notably Tabu – real-life Kinshasa mechanic Papi Mpaka – who is Félicité’s number one fan.
Although some might argue that the 129-minute running time should have been trimmed down a little, it is Tshanda’s dazzling and subdued qualities that carry the weight of the film. She rightfully deserves the accolades and praise that she has received since the movie’s premiere in competition at Berlinale 2017 to her AMAA 2017 Best Actress in a Leading Role win, beating out higher profile names such as Lupita Nyong’O and Rita Dominic. Gomis’ internationally produced feature is a musical and visual journey not to miss.
Félicité is released in selected cinemas on 10th November 2017.
Watch the trailer for Félicité here: