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February 16 – March 3

The McMillan-Stewart Fellowship: Alain Gomis

The films of Alain Gomis (b. 1972) define a richly cinematic mode of narrative portraiture. Each of his four features centers around willful characters overwhelmed by difficult circumstances that force them to question their place within a world that seems indifferent and even hostile to their plight. From the Senegalese graduate student in Gomis’ first film L’Afrance, who must decide whether to stay in Paris without papers, to the mother in his newest feature Félicité,whose desperate situation drives her to seek help from friends, family and strangers alike, Gomis’ protagonists suddenly find themselves radically disoriented, no longer able to find a stability within a place they once called home. Ultimately, L’Afrance and Félicité—as well as Andalucia and Aujourd’hui—expand to pointedly question the relationship of the individual and citizen to an uncaring state while also examining the tensions and contradictions of the multi-ethnic and multi-tribal local communities redefining French and African cities today. A fascination with the vitality and dangers of urban life gives Gomis’ films a distinct rhythm and energy as they poetically alternate between the almost stream-of-consciousness perspective of their drifting characters and raw, verité scenes of unruly, violent city streets.

Born in France into a Senegalese and Bissau-Guinean family, Alain Gomis has divided his films between France and Francophone Africa, offering a unique vista over the sharp differences and deep bonds that continue to define the relationship between Europe and its former colonies. In many ways the extreme sensitivity of his characters—who hear, touch and see their world with an acute yet wandering attention—embodies the same position and argument as Gomis’ humanist cinema, which gives dignity and moving voice to lives made difficult by socioeconomic and historical injustices while pointing to the world beyond his compelling characters and their urgent stories, toward that vital place glimpsed only from the edge of the story and frame.

Together with the Film Study Center and the McMillan-Stewart Foundation, the Harvard Film Archive is proud to welcome Alain Gomis as the winner of the Film Study Center’s 2018 Geneviève McMillan-Reba Stewart Fellowship in Distinguished Filmmaking. – Haden Guest

Presented in partnership with the Film Study Center, Harvard.

Special thanks: Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Cozette Russell—Film Study Center.

Free Admission
Friday February 16 at 7pm

L’Afrance

Directed by Alain Gomis. With Djolof Mbengue, Delphine Zingg, Samir Guesmi
France/Senegal 2001, 35mm, color, 90 min. French with English subtitles

L’Afrance tells a tragically familiar tale of victimization by uncaring immigration laws as it follows the vertiginous voyage of an idealistic Senegalese exchange student, El-Hadj, studying in Paris and abruptly transformed into an illegal immigrant when he carelessly allows his visa to expire. Offering El-Hadj as an emblem of the uncertainty faced by so many Africans in Europe, Gomis lingers upon the stark and moral decisions that force El-Hadj to question his national identity and allegiances while destabilizing his closest relationship. The film’s striking opening—the recording and playing back of a cassette “letter” from the student’s parents in Senegal—stands alone as an evocative poem of the sense of displacement and longing that defines so many immigrants’ experiences. Print courtesy Mille et une productions.

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Free Admission
Friday February 16 at 9pm

Andalucia

Directed by Alain Gomis. With Samir Guesmi, Delphine Zingg, Djolof Mbengue
France 2007, 35mm, color, 90 min. French with English subtitles

Gomis regular Samir Guesmi stars as an eccentric outsider, a French-Algerian social worker inspired by a never fully explained identity crisis to abandon family and home to start a new life on the far edge of Paris. Living in a trailer home alongside circus performers, Gomis’ awkward everyman drifts in search of a new connection to French society while reconsidering his past, recalled through a series of fragmentary flashbacks. An edgy and formally bold companion piece to L’Afrance, Andalucia expands upon the earlier film’s portrait of Paris as a vibrant yet unstable postcolonial mosaic of displaced immigrant communities. Print courtesy Mille et une productions.

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Free Admission
Alain Gomis in Person

Friday March 2 at 7pm

Félicité

Directed by Alain Gomis. With Véro Tshanda Beya Mputu, Gaetan Claudia, Papi Mpaka
France/Belgium/Senegal/Germany/Lebanon 2017, DCP, color, 129 min. Lingala and French with English subtitles

Gomis’ latest work stars Congolese singer Véro Tshanda Beya Mputu in her first film role as a nightclub singer and mother whose life is suddenly turned overturned by the near-fatal accident of her wayward son. Following in the footsteps of Pasolini, Bong Joon-Ho and Ripstein-Garciadiego, Gomis invents an indelible maternal figure who vividly embodies the hard truths and paradoxes of motherhood: the crushing burden of responsibility; the festering resentment between mother and offspring; and the love that nevertheless grows between them, like a stubborn root in rocky soil. Making innovative use of music, Félicité adds a new dimension to Gomis’ cinema by offsetting Mputu’s captivating vocal performances with her real-life collaborators, the Kasai Allstars, against a moody and contrapuntal score provided by a local orchestra whose music floats up to accompany Mputu at some of her most difficult moments. Here, and in unexplained nocturnal dream or fantasy sequences, Gomis holds up melodrama as a construct—pointing to the role of melos, or music, to elicit emotion and empathy. Winner of top prizes in both Berlin and FESPACO, Africa’s most important film festival, Félicité offers both a moving portrait of resilience and an indictment of the corruption and violence that colors everyday life in the Democratic Republic of Congo. DCP courtesy Strand Releasing.

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Free Admission
Alain Gomis in Person

Saturday March 3 at 7pm

Aujourd’hui (Tey)

Directed by Alain Gomis. With Saul Williams, Djolof Mbengue, Anisia Uzeyman
France/Senegal 2012, 35mm, color, 86 min. French and Wolof with English subtitles

How would you spend your last day on earth if you knew exactly when your life would end? So asks Gomis in this gentle existential parable that finds a man given the knowledge of his death and the freedom to live his last hours exactly as he pleases. Taking almost mythological form, Aujourd’hui follows the course of this final day as its hero first stands before the judgment of family members and then steps out into the streets of Dakar animated by an intense appreciation of all that passes before his eyes and ears. For his lead actor, Gomis made the unexpected choice of American slam poet Saul Williams, whose inability to understand either French or Wolof makes hauntingly real his floating distance from the fleeting world and the flood of emotions, accusations and regrets that color his poignant encounters with family, friends and lovers. Embracing a kind of stream-of-consciousness flow as it wanders with Williams on an emotional itinerary, Aujourd’hui is also punctuated by intense documentary style—sequences that look beyond its death-driven hero to reveal enraged protesters against the corrupt presidency of Abdoulaye Wade. In these moments, Gomis seemingly refuses his own film’s Felliniesque oneirism by reminding us of the stark instability and injustice that has gripped Senegal in recent times. Print courtesy Wide Management.

Preceded by

Little Light (Petite Lumière)

Directed by Alain Gomis. With Assy Fall, Djolof Mbengue, Thierno Ndiaye
France/Senegal 2013, DCP, color, 15 min. French and Wolof with English subtitles

 

DCP courtesy Mille et une productions.

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