Kinshasa bar singer Félicité (Véro Tshanda Beya) has an imposing don't-fuck-with-me face. In Félicité, Senegal's official Oscar entry for 2018, events conspire to fuck with her in a big way, but what starts out as a story about a self-sacrificing mother segues into one about a self-sufficient woman opening herself up to love. Times are already tough, but when Félicité’s son Samo (Gaetan Claudia) is injured in a motorcycle accident, she has to figure out a way to pay for his medical care. She starts by attempting to collect from her debtors, but it isn't enough. Her band mates pass around a hat, but it isn't enough. Lusty neighbor Tabu (Papi Mpaka, an unlikely cross between Luis Guzmán and Craig Robinson) even proposes marriage, but she turns him down. A family friend explains that she was named Félicité, "our joy," because she rose from the dead after a childhood illness. She is, in other words, an unstoppable force.
French-Senegalese director Alain Gomis contrasts her expressive singing with the elegant sounds of the Orchestre Symphonique de Kinshasa just as he contrasts dusty daylight with dark sequences that have a Henri Rousseau feel. Beya is an unvarnished talent, but she holds the scenario together through the sheer force of her presence. In the press notes, Gomes compares her to Nina Simone, circa "Ain't Got No/I Got Life." I'd say that's just about right.
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