Alain Gomis in New York

Alain Gomis’s Félicité (2017)

When Alain Gomis’s Tey (Today) premiered in Berlin in 2012, the Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney called it “a quiet film, modest and dreamlike.” Saul Williams, the rapper and poet who later codirected Neptune Frost (2021) with Anisia Uzeyman, plays Satché, a man in seemingly fine health who wakes up one morning in his village outside Dakar to discover that this day will be his last. Paying final visits to his wife and children, his former mistress, and all his friends, Satché is celebrated, reprimanded, and mourned.

Tey is one of three features directed by Gomis screening in the Metrograph series Dreamlike Visions: The Multi-Sensorial Cinema of Alain Gomis, running from Friday through Sunday, and Gomis will be in New York to talk about them. Writing about Gomis for a 2017 issue of Film Comment, Jonathan Romney called Tey “his finest achievement . . . At times resembling a dance movie, Today—shot by Céline Sciamma collaborator Crystel Fournier—centers on Williams’s body, his easy, loping gait, and his candidly open features. At certain times, Williams’s Satché will grin radiantly, reveling in what’s around him; at others, his face seems heavy, laden with the weight of an entire life. It’s an audaciously counterintuitive move to cast a man associated with hyper-fluid verbal energy in a film so much about silence.”

Félicité (2017) is named for the Congolese nightclub singer played by Véro Tshanda Beya Mputu, and it’s “a tense societal procedural on the level of the Dardennes,” writes Kiva Reardon for the Notebook. “Aided by Céline Bozon’s pensively luminous cinematography,” wrote Fernando F. Croce in a dispatch to the Notebook from Toronto, “Gomis reflects the musicality of Beya’s regal presence into Félicité’s very textures. Sultry lounge half-light, pale sunshine in the middle of a marketplace, oneiric silvers in the woods at night—emotive traces of what the heroine keeps customarily veiled behind a stoic visage.”

When she learns that her fourteen-year-old son has been severely injured in an accident, Félicité races through Kinshasa to seek help. “Though the second half turns somewhat diffuse,” wrote Croce, “Gomis’s tough and vibrant understanding of romance and struggle scarcely falters. Neither does his sense of wonder toward his indomitable leading lady: Riding in the back of a motorcycle, Beya might be Gong Li in Zhang Yimou’s The Story of Qiu Ju or one of Satyajit Ray’s proud women, all too aware of the peril and autonomy of living day to day and song to song.”

Rewind & Play (2022) is a reworking of footage shot for a 1969 episode of the French television series Jazz Portraits. The subject is Thelonious Monk, and the interviewer is Henri Renaud, whose “patronizing racism bleeds through in nearly every interaction,” as Erika Balsom puts it in the introduction to her interview with Gomis for Metrograph Journal. Monk is “like a question,” says Gomis. “Each time you go back to him, the question is bigger. You don’t have any answer but a feeling that he’s doing it right. His music is very simple, but simplicity can be complex.”

Balsom also asks Gomis about the two films he’s selected to screen along with his own features. For Gomis, Lemohang Jeremiah Mosese’s This Is Not a Burial, It’s a Resurrection (2019), in which an elderly woman prepares for her own death, “says, ‘Okay, let’s go where it hurts. From there, if we can find hope, it’s going to be a true hope.’” Alice Diop’s Saint Omer (2022), which centers on the trial of a woman accused of killing her infant daughter, is “almost surgical,” says Gomis. “I like that [Diop] doesn’t play with what could be easy. There’s no honey. This makes her film, like Lemohang’s film, bigger than the subjects they are talking about. It’s about us, at this moment.”

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