In FÃ©licitÃ©, VÃ©ro Tshanda Beya plays the title character, a singer and single mother in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The movie opens in a lively bar, full of gyrating, intoxicated folk, whom FÃ©licitÃ© and the band entertain all night with infectious songs filled with blue notes. (The music is provided by the well-regarded Kasai Allstars.)
The next day, she s got troubles with her refrigerator and negotiations with a local handyman. Then, some bad news: Her teenage son has been grievously injured in a motorbike accident. He needs an immediate and immediately paid-for operation.
In an ordinary movie this would set off a race-against-the-clock scenario. But FÃ©licitÃ©, written and directed by the Franco-Senegalese filmmaker Alain Gomis, is an unconventional treatment of an emergency.
At crucial junctures in FÃ©licitÃ© s desperate scramble to raise funds for her son s medical care, Mr. Gomis, who wrote the screenplay with Olivier Loustau and Delphine Zingg, expands time instead of compressing it. FÃ©licitÃ© still has her job to do, after all. This movie aspires to depict real life, not life as cinema is often inclined to idealize it; by the same token, it is hardly a work of naturalism.
Mr. Gomis s cinematic style is spectacularly multifaceted. The camerawork and cutting often have the fleetness of a documentary, but there s nothing sloppy about them. (The cinematography is by CÃ©line Bozon, the editing by Fabrice Rouaud and the director.)
There is one sequence near the middle of the film, in which FÃ©licitÃ©, standing against a blue wall, hears more bad news about her son. She collapses, her back sliding down the wall, and the camera, staying near her head, follows her. There s a palpable immediacy to the scene; it resolves in a close-up of Ms. Beya that is as exquisitely framed as any shot from Carl Dreyer s The Passion of Joan of Arc.
Expressive, almost dreamlike dissolves figure in a particularly fraught homecoming scene. There are shots of an orchestra and a choir in Kinshasa rehearsing, and eventually performing, works by Arvo PÃ¤rt. There are scenes in which FÃ©licitÃ© wanders a night forest alone. None of these tendrils feel affected, though. And Mr. Gomis has a sharp ear for the alarming way in which romantic transactions are negotiated between men and women in this milieu.
Marry me, mama; your life will improve, the handyman, Tabu (Papi Mpaka), says while working on the refrigerator. No sooner has he gotten that out then he adds, If you forget me, I ll strangle your little neck. They become lovers, and stable ones at that. This is one of the several illuminating and often moving surprises FÃ©licitÃ© delivers.