Dir. Alain Gomis
Alain Gomis’ fourth feature Félicité is set in the Congolese city of Kinshasa and follows its eponymous heroine as she struggles to keep her life in balance after her son is injured in an accident.
Félicité (Véro Tshanda Beya) is introduced as a strong-willed and independent woman who works as a singer to make ends meet, supporting herself and her 14-year old son Samo (Gaetan Claudia). With her husky and soulful voice, she is the star of the local bar and owns the stage as soon as she performs. When she is informed about her son’s accident and the necessity of a costly operation, the proud single mother is thrown off her path and finds herself working even harder, literally singing for the life of her son but also collecting money from various people who were still in her debt. She has to overcome her personal issues to confront her past and move forward. During her journey she receives unexpected help from Tabu (Papo Mpaka), a regular at her bar and a lady’s man who eventually ends up supporting her in any way he can. Gomis’ adds some light-hearted comical relief to the drama through Tabu and his efforts to repair Félicité’s fridge – a running gag since once he fixes one problem, a new one appears.
Gomis’s cast consists of locals from Kinshasa, which adds to the authenticity of his characters. It’s the first movie role for Véro Tshanda Beya, a stage actress, and the first acting roles in general for Papo Mpaka and Gaetan Claudia. While their characters live in a poverty-ridden city where people struggle daily to provide for their families and are surrounded by crime and violence, their perspectives in life are little, yet they manage to enjoy and embrace what’s important. Véro Tshanda Beya’s performance of the ever-so tough Félicité conveys that exact pride and dignity needed for her to cope with her environment.
Dir. Stanley Tucci
Armie Hammer stars in Stanley Tucci’s unconventional biopic Final Portrait as a sit-in for Geoffrey Rush’s Alberto Giacometti. The young and wealthy novelist James Lord (Armie Hammer), an American art-enthusiast and the aging, famous artist Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) have been friends for years, yet Giacometti realizes that he has never painted a portrait of his friend before. They both agree that James will pose for him during an afternoon, shortly before he is about to return home to New York.
Although Giacometti lectures James about his belief that a portrait is never truly finished, James is at first unaware of its actual meaning. The afternoon sit-in turns into a seemingly endless session with constant interruptions including the occasional walk through the streets of Paris to catch a break or a visit at the local bistro for a glass of wine or two. As a perfectionist, Giacometti is furthermore constantly frustrated with his work and ends up starting from scratch again and again. After eighteen physically and emotionally exhausting sessions and several rescheduled flights, James convinces his friend that the portrait must eventually be finished due to his move back to the United States.
Final Portrait captures the process of Giacometti’s work on his last portrait and highlights the artist’s obsession for details, his inner restlessness and craving for perfection. It furthermore sheds light on his private life which includes his brother Diego (Tony Shalhoub), his wife Annette (Sylvie Testud) and his mistress Caroline (Clémence Poésy), a prostitute and his muse. Yet, the heart of the film is the odd but genuine friendship between the artist and his sitter that Tucci highlights in a charming and entertaining way.
Dir. Oren Moverman
Based on the novel by Herman Koch, Oren Moverman adapted and directed The Dinner, a morally complex thriller taking place over the course of one night at a fancy restaurant where two couples meet to discuss family matters and have to decide how far they are willing to go in order to protect their loved ones.
The tense night begins when Stan Lohmann (Richard Gere) invites his estranged and troubled younger brother Paul (Steve Coogan) and his wife Claire (Laura Linney) to join him and his wife Katelyn (Rebecca Hall) for dinner at a ridiculously pretentious and upscale restaurant. With Paul’s sarcastic and cynical remarks to everyone around him – including the chef and the waiters – the night is off to a rocky start. The narrative keeps on jumping back and forth in time through several flashbacks that include background information on the complicated relationship between the two couples and especially the two brothers. While the grown-ups have had their difficulties in the past, their 16-year old sons are good friends. It is also through flashbacks that we learn about a horrible crime these boys committed after a party. Although they filmed a video while committing their disgusting and shocking crime and posted it online, their identities are still unknown and might remain so depending on what their parents decide to do about them.
The Dinner explores the parent’s responsibility in raising their children and teaching them right from wrong while also questioning their willingness to cover up the nasty crimes committed by their children in order to protect them from a system that might ruin their lives forever. Moverman’s film leaves the audience hanging with an unsatisfying ending and is often too concerned with various themes from the brother’s past while it could have tried to maintain a constant focus on their boys, the heated dinner discussions, and the actions their parents might take.