Alain Gomis’ unfamiliarity with the Congolese city of Kinshasa, and the language spoken there, informs the feeling of disorientation that saturates every vivid frame of Félicité. The French-Senegalese director seldom holds the camera steady for long — but he’s not in a hurry. As he takes in an urban center that’s home to more than 10 million people, Gomis shares his discoveries with the audience by moving through the outdoor markets and busy streets. From this great expanse, he narrows his focus to a single nightclub and one band’s lead singer, Félicité (Véro Tshanda Beya Mputu).
Gomis approaches her performances with a gritty, gorgeous series of impressions. We watch the patrons drink, carouse, and argue until her raspy voice gains enough emotional momentum to unite them all in dance. Then we follow her home, to where her personal story comes to represent the dysfunctional economy and inequitable class system of the city she lives in, much like the characters in Rohinton Mistry’s novel A Fine Balance. When her son Samo (Gaetan Claudia) gets into a traffic accident, Félicité must come up with the money to pay for his surgery. Subsequently, her misfortunes multiply. But Gomis also films her at night, sinking into the Congo River and then rising out of it with a renewed sense of purpose and resolve.
Opens Saturday at the Roxie Theater.