This filmmaker has scoured the Congolese capital, this "fascinating metropolis", to find non-professional actors for his film ‘Felicity ‘.
Kinshasa, open city?
It is the impression that emerges from the fourth feature film by Alain Gomis on the life of a rebellious woman just as much as that of an indomitable city. Under the milky sky, the camera follows the young woman in the chaotic streets of the Congolese capital, sometimes abandons her to dwell on scenes of everyday life, those most often shot by filmmaker Dieudo Hamadi, who collaborated to this atypical fiction. Before returning time and again to this neighborhood bar, where Felicity sings at night with the Kasai Allstars, a real band discovered by Alain Gomis even before going for the first time to this African Babylon, the capital of the huge Democratic Republic of Congo, the third largest metropolis in Africa, after Lagos and Cairo.
Landing in Kinshasa four years ago, Alain Gomis knew more or less what he wanted: "I had already written the base of the story about a strong woman and her relationship with her son," says the French-Senegalese director. The idea came to him after watching a video of the Kasai Allstars. Then grew the desire to go to this «fascinating metropolis, where this unique sound was invented, that peculiar mix of modernity and tradition I had not found elsewhere in Africa». Kinshasa and music: it’s an old story. For more than a decade, it seduces filmmakers attracted by the strong vibrations of a messy but terribly creative town, full of crazy and inspired unsung geniuses. From Benda Bilili in 2010 to Kinshasa Kids in 2013, along Kinshasa Symphony in 2011 – a documentary on the only Symphony Orchestra in sub-Saharan Africa which also figures in Alain Gomis’ film – not to mention Viva Riva, a supercharged thriller released in 2012, the Congolese capital has quietly emerged as one of the cities most represented on our screens and almost always associated with the fate of musical training. Shooting in Kinshasa, where you never know who is to be feared most, the thief or the constable, is a real challenge. "I quickly realised that it would be hard, but the challenge itself was stimulating," says Gomis. In this city without infrastructure but with an omnipresent administration, he often had to «negotiate permissions and do a lot of preparatory work”, Groundwork as well as casting time for more than a year. Among the trio who dominate the film, only Vero Tshanda Bell, who plays the main character, had already played a small role in theatre. "She imposed herself by the strength of her will, while initially, I was looking for a woman who was not so young and frail”, recognize Alain Gomis, who hesitated a long time before offering the role to this young and so often impassive woman who wears her face like a mask.
You would think that the film ends with this quest for the money to pay for the teenager’s surgery, but it bounces back to reality, or rather, immersed in a more intimate, even dreamy and mystical dimension, suddenly drifts away at a different pace surprising the viewer. "I also wanted to talk about the world of the unseen which is still very present in the African world", says Gomis who readily acknowledges how much being himself half African and having worked with a Senegalese team was useful to apprehend a city where one is often wary of the image of foreigners. "I show the African city in the harshness of everyday life. But I could have done the same in Paris. One cannot build the justification of a society on the sole possibility of 4 or 5 percent who are well off”, argues the filmmaker who has already planned to show the film in Kinshasa. Since the shooting, the situation has hardly improved in the capital of this huge country. In Kinshasa, as in the film, the present is the only horizon for a city where survival is a daily war.