"Quite simply, it’s a film about real people trying to survive the daily trials of real life"
Africa is a continent with a rich history and culture, with it being the home its own unique brands of art, literature, and music. The continent has also branched out into the world of cinema, with African film-makers creating a kind of distinctly African cinema, with the most famous example perhaps being the Nigerian juggernaut dubbed “Nollywood”.
This brings me to the subject of today’s review, the socio-realistic drama Félicité, a film that tells a story that is relatable, funny, tragic and poignant in a manner that I feel transcends national, cultural and language barriers, while also showing that Western viewers should definitely take notice of the brilliance that African cinema has to offer.
Félicité, a struggling nightclub entertainer, embarks upon a desperate journey around the Congolese capital Kinshasa to raise money to help pay for her son's medical treatment after he is injured in an unfortunate accident, while also becoming ever closer to kindly repair man Tabu, who aims to help her in her plight.
In the title role of Félicité, Vero Tshanda Beya Mputu gives an honest and naturalistic lead performance as a woman trying to prove that she can make her own way in life without the need of a husband, with Mputu coming across as an often stubborn, but versatile and strong-willed woman.
In the supporting role of Tabu, Gaetan Claudia also comes across less like a character in a film but as a real person, with his generally kind nature and his determination to help Félicité making him a likeable and relatable screen presence, even when he often makes something of a drunken fool of himself.
The story of Félicité is a simple one, with the first hour being almost entirely dedicated to Félicité’s efforts to raise money to help her son receive medical treatment. The scenes of Félicité traveling around the Congolese capital Kinshasa pleading with people to get the money she is owed is often difficult to watch, with the desperate mother’s plight often made more difficult by the angry and often hostile reaction from those she is taking money from.
One such woman is so angered by Félicité’s request that she spits on the money and then insists that she sell one of her children to raise the money, with the whole scene being deeply uncomfortable to watch.
The second hour follows Félicité once she gets the money and her son is released from the hospital, the film then doesn’t really have a story. Instead, the film shifts its focus to Félicité as she attempts to get her life back on track, help her son recover and develop a closer relationship with Tabu.
This part of the story is told largely through imagery with minimal dialogue, which might make the film something of a challenge to watch for those who prefer to have a more accessible approach to its story. However, I feel that it goes a long way to creating a mood and atmosphere about the film, with it being filled with moments of humour and growing love between Félicité and Tabu, but also moments of solemnity and horror such as a vicious beating inflicted upon thieves by an angry mob.
While this approach works in the film's favour, it does leave the pace dragging somewhat with the film’s second-hour passing by very slowly, and I feel that it perhaps could have been cut down somewhat to make the film flow smoother.
The film’s approach to its setting is exemplary, with it being a realistic and brutally honest portrayal of normal life in the modern-day Democratic Republic of Congo, with the film having an almost documentary-like approach to its visuals with the atmosphere almost being comparable to something by socio-realist film-maker Ken Loach. Quite simply, it’s a film about real people trying to survive the daily trials of real life, with all its moments of pain, sadness, and humour.
With the film having already been showered with praise and awards galore, including the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival and no less than six awards at the Africa Movie Academy Awards (the most awarded to any film in the organisation's history), and almost certain receive an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film, Félicité is a fascinating film to watch, with it serving as a fitting example of the growing maturity and sophistication that African cinema has to offer.