The Adventures of Felix


(USA 2001)
Not Rated

Starring:
Olivier Ducastel, Sami Bouajila, Jacques Martineau, Patachou

Director: Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau

Writing credits: Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau

WinStar Cinema

 

So often nowadays a film can only be described by what it is - a just-the-facts, by-the-numbers, who-what-when-where-why sort of thing. As Hollywood focuses more and more on demographics, budgets, and bottom lines, movies often seem little more than a meeting place between plot, setting, character, and execution, the so-so sum total of their many, many parts.

These qualities, humdrum as they are, somehow become a part of the moviegoing experience - especially when studios try to foist their creations on an unsuspecting public. Thus, SAVING PRIVATE RYAN is deemed a war movie, MAGNOLIA an ensemble drama, SHREK simply an animated fairy tale. These descriptors, as utilitarian as they may be, end up being somehow reductive; encapsulating a work of art in such button-short phrases eliminates its uniqueness. Yes, TITANIC is a boat disaster movie, but does that do it justice? Is CITIZEN KANE just about a man and a sled?

What a pleasure it is, then, to find a film than not only defines itself by what it is, but by what it isn't. THE ADVENTURES OF FELIX, a charming tale of one man's journey across the French countryside, is a joyful paradox, a genre picture that surprises at every turn. Rejoice, film lovers: here is a modestly-budgeted independent film that pulls the rug out from under our expectations. It tells us that the journey is its own reward, then shows us why…a journey that defies our expectations, one pleasant surprise after another.

Truthfully, road movies are nothing new. Even gay cinema, the subgenre that FELIX comfortably makes a home in, has a few traveling classics (THE LIVING END, THE ADVENTURES OF PRISCILLA, QUEEN OF THE DESERT). But FELIX establishes itself as different from the beginning; yes, it chronicles a son's journey to find his father, but it has a way of drifting lazily off the path, playfully teasing the viewer with the roads less traveled. What could be irritating instead is blissfully refreshing, revealing small moments of Life and its fascinating allure. In the end, THE ADVENTURES OF FELIX sneaks up on you, playfully dancing on its edge while never taking its eyes off of the very human qualities of its story.

The Adventures of FelixFelix (Sami Bouajila) is a buoyant, happy man of Arab/French ancestry, working as a fisherman in Northern France and living with his lover Daniel (Pierre-Loup Rajot). When Felix is laid off from his job, he decides to take a road trip to track down his father, who abandoned his mother when he was an infant. Striking off, he explores the beautiful French countryside and encounters a family of strangers he never expected.

The film's quiet charms begin with Felix himself; here we have a lead character who is HIV+, but is not depressed, angry, overcompensating, or even concerned that much. It's not that the gravity of the disease is ignored (he takes his medication dutifully), it's just that his focus is elsewhere, on his life and his in-the-moment existence. He biracial background is an important part of the story, but it never forces itself into the scenario. Likewise, his romantic relationship seems healthy, happy, and enjoyable - when's the last time we saw one of those? (His tryst with a randy motorist along the way doesn't even rate as a bump on the romantic highway.)

The Adventures of FelixInstead of delving into polemics, THE ADVENTURES OF FELIX stays focused on its human interactions - a series of engaging, offbeat relationships that Felix develops during his sojourn. Of these, the best is with Mathilde (Patachou), a no-nonsense grandmother who invites the young man to carry her groceries, move her furniture, and then stay a night. Their bond is fleeting, but piercingly tender - an odd couple, certainly, but one that gracefully recalls an earlier era, when conversation and companionship were valued for their own merits.

Felix encounters young impressionable artists, single mothers, and old fishermen, but even describing them as such dilutes their sweet-tempered originality. The young artist is also a burgeoning auto thief, the single mother is (surprise!) content and self-sufficient, and the old fisherman is…well, just a fisherman. These triumphs over predictability make the film's more traditional storytelling techniques seem tired and dull; a subplot involving a murder that Felix witnesses, for example, seems forced, unnecessary, and out of place. For Felix, the joys of life are rooted in experience, not running from them.

The charms of THE ADVENTURES OF FELIX are hardly Herculean. This is a small triumph, a series of simple joys. Still, within its modest context, the film manages to achieve something more than marvelous…it diverges from the tried and true, and reaches for its own unique path. It took the road less traveled by, and in my eyes, at least, it has made all the difference.

- Gabriel Shanks


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Review text copyright © 2001 Gabriel Shanks and Cozzi fan Tutti. All rights reserved. Reproduction of text in whole or in part in any form or in any medium without express written permission of Cozzi fan Tutti or the author is prohibited.


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