September 27, 2002

Cornell Cinema

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A travel tale in the true Homerian tradition, the French film Adventures of Felix follows its charismatic title character on a trip that will forever change his life and view of the world. Felix is a gay Arab man with HIV living in a small town in northern France when he is laid off from his job and must deal with both unemployment and the death of his mother. So, in an attempt to get his life in order, Felix heads out on the road toward Marseilles, supposedly to meet his father, who he has never seen before — but in truth, it is not the journey’s endpoint that’s important, but the journey itself.

Along the way, Felix meets an incredible cast of characters who become a kind of family of the road to him, helping him on his way and teaching him about himself in the process. Early on, he witnesses the savage murder of a young Arab man by a street gang — a racist attack that Felix is too scared to report to the police, and he deals with the guilt of this failure for the remainder of the film.

Among the unique characters who Felix encounters on his journey are a teenager who Felix impresses by “borrowing” a car, and Isabelle, who is bringing her three children to see their three different fathers. He also meets an old fisherman, whom Felix helps to escape by flying a kite. In his encounters with these people, Felix demonstrates a strange mix of compassion and indifference, which Sami Bouajila, as the title character, portrays brilliantly.

Bouajila’s Felix is a complex, multilayered character struggling with a number of demons — his father ahead of him, his unemployment, his AIDS (which provides a number of strangely evocative scenes where Felix takes his daily dose of pills; this simple task, repeated throughout the movie, is a subtle reminder of his illness). Felix’s coarseness towards Isabelle’s children (he mocks them when they tell him they have four “poppas”) is contrasted with his kindness towards the father figure of the old man at the end of the film, and Bouajila’s performance is convincing enough that all the diverse sides of Felix’s personality — his carefree side as well as his tears over the murder he witnessed — blend together into a comprehensive portrait.

The film’s two directors are clearly juggling a lot of balls with Adventures of Felix and its interlocking themes, but the film never seems forced or heavy-handed. Instead, different themes and issues that the directors wanted to address rise up naturally out of the plot and the interaction of the characters. In the course of the movie’s wide-ranging plot, Felix comes face to face with the prejudices of people regarding race, sexuality, and disease, and all this in a very brief hour and a half running time.

The film is shot simply, to match its everyman hero’s nature, but the cinematography in certain scenes is dazzling, capturing the beautiful landscapes of France. In one scene in a field full of flowers, the vividly colorful setting adds vibrancy and power to the sexually charged atmosphere. And Felix’s light-hearted mood at the beginning of his journey is mirrored in scenes where he dances and sings playfully by the side of a highway — these scenes have an energy and charm that make it hard not to like the character. Elsewhere, the direct style adds documentary-type realism to the scene where an Arab man is beaten (to death, it is later revealed) by a few street thugs, who then chase Felix to a nearby bar.

Adventures of Felix takes its title hero on a strange journey that gives him a new lease on life. And, by extension, this unique film gives the audience the same sense of fulfillment and joy that Felix feels upon the unexpected close of his travels.

Archived article by Ed Howard