Before We Vanish by Justin Stewart Film

Félicité | Alain Gomis

October 27, 2017

Alain Gomis, a French director of Guinea-Bissauian and Senegalese descent, knows the value of a good face. This is why he fills so many of Félicité‘s frames with the visage of Véro Tshanda Beya (a singer, making her film debut). Beya plays the title character here, who’s also a singer, and Gomis follows her active performing life in the DR Congo capital Kinshasa, where she lives in admirable solitude. Félicité has a son, and when she receives a call that he’s been maimed in an accident, her routine is ruptured. As she enacts the mortifying stations of gathering money for an operation, Gomis and DP Céline Bozon’s fleet camera stays trained on Beya’s expressive/enigmatic face, with its weary scowl (when scrounging) or dissatisfied grimace (when observing the drunken customers at her band’s performances).

One of those plastered patrons is womanizing handyman Tabu, with whom Félicité forms a tentative bond, despite his penchant for picking up bar randos and getting her son drunk. It’s Tabu who nails it when he says her face “is like an armored car.” Félicité resembles a particularly grueling Dardennes or Cristi Puiu film when it becomes about the woman’s quest for cash. “Before the operation, we need part payment,” says the surgeon who is to operate on Félicité’s son, despite any delay being life-threatening; a wealthy, estranged brother has Félicité dragged from his house screaming before tossing her some pity bucks; and an aunt asks, “How did you get his ugly?” Overlong, with too many repeated beats, Gomis’s is a film of many hues, with surreal, symbolic flashbacks, local color (a very real traffic robot) glimpsed during motorbike and car rides, and the ever-present medicine of music in the air.

Published as part of Toronto International Film Festival 2017 | Dispatch 3.