Félicité is an eye-opening drama depicting the struggles of single motherhood in Kashasa. The foreign film opens with a strong-willed Félicité belting a song in her native language at a makeshift bar where she is the lead singer of a full band. Soon we discover trouble and despair follow the Congo native. She wakes up one morning and finds her refrigerator fan is broken, then receives a phone call informing her that her only son has been in a horrible motor bike accident. The film follows the mother of one as she struggles to raise money to pay for his surgery.
The film is directed by Alain Gomis, also known for creating Aujourd’hui, a film that starred poet and rapper Saul Williams in 2012. This is the French director’s fourth film and all have encompassed socio-political elements. Félicité has won four awards internationally.
Félicité is an independent woman and constantly punished for it. The film does a phenomenal job of recognizing the scrutiny women face when they decide to be financially independent and single. As Félicité desperately tries to raise the $600 needed for her son Samo’s (Gaeton Claudia) surgery, she musters enough courage to seek help from the boy’s father, who has been absent in the film up until this point. “You puffed out your chest, the strong woman,” says Samo’s father. “Now look at you,” he shouts as he begins to beat her and demands she leaves his apartment. A determined Félicité takes the beating and demands that he gives her money. She ultimately leaves bloody and empty handed.
Even though the cinematography throughout the film is shaky, the devastating yet powerful images of the Congo will distract you from every time a character’s head was cut off in a frame.
Despite her environment Félicité sings through her pain. Her voice is deep and powerful and her singing sounds like a religious chant, adding a chilling yet upbeat tone to the film.
However, the story became complex and difficult to follow when the plot changes mid-way through the film. Félicité begins a romantic relationship with the handyman who services her ever breaking refrigerator. Tabu (Papi Mpaka) seems to love Félicité, but he is also a drunk who leaves the bar every night with a different woman. Tabu tells Félicité “marry me, and your life will be better.” She tries to resist but eventually falls for Tabu.
The performance from each actor is authentic and convincing. You can’t help but to feel bad for them all and ponder your own relationships. Félicité somehow manages to navigate throughout life without any visible damage.
In the final scene, Félicité, Tabu and Samo relax in her living room as a family. The director wants us to believe they are a happy unit but in reality Félicité settles for a drunk, who is a womanizer. His behavior sets a horrible example for her vulnerable teenage son and settling for him negates the strong and confident woman we were first introduced too. She goes against her better judgement to keep Tabu and he still can’t get the refrigerator fan to work.
We screened the film at the 2017 New York Film Festival.