DIRECTOR: Roberta Durrant
CAST: Hlayani Junior Mabasa, Linda Sokhulu, Janet Suzman, Andre Jacobs,
RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes
RATING: 3 stars (out of 5)
FELIX is a deliberately feel-good film, set in contemporary Cape Town. As director Roberta Durrant points out, she was going for a fable, and that’s what you get – bright primary colours, simple story with moral message and the Hollywood touch of happy ever after.
Though the title suggests this is the story of teenager Felix Xaba (Mabasa) it is really his mother’s story that anchors the film, hinting at a more sobering assessment of what it means to want a very different life for your children.
It’s filled with bright and breezy cinematography and jolly music, courtesy of a big band Cape Town jazzy soundtrack. But then there’s the tired stereotypical jokes about Capetonians (a coloured child, a white child and a black child make friends at a private school. What do you think their personality types will be like?) and they overtake any serious interrogation of contemporary social connections and fluid power relationships you may mistakenly think will be presented.
When Felix gets a scholarship to an exclusive private school, his mother Lindiwe (Sokhulu) admonishes him to work hard as this is the chance of a lifetime and she is sacrificing a lot to make it happen. The teenager is all too aware of what this means to his family. But as he inadvertently discovers more about his long-dead, musician father, he struggles to reconcile the path he wants to choose with his mother’s bitter memories of how the jazz lifestyle led to her husband’s downfall.
Through his father’s old friends Felix discovers a world of creativity and music which he laps up, first with a penny whistle and then with a saxophone.
This being a film, and him unknowingly being a bit of a musical genius, Felix skips months and years of practice to jam with the pros, culminating in a school concert that provides a high point (so score one for Felix which does what Jakhalsdans didn’t).
We get the obligatory racist behaviour from his white school mates and a teacher, conflicted emotions from a more senior black pupil at the school and Royston Stoffels and Thapelo Mofokeng playing ex-musicians who have just a touch of the lazy-but-we’re-so-cool about them.
Elvis Mahomba and Okwethu Banisi are very natural as Felix’s younger siblings – Wiseman and Zanele – sometimes almost stealing the show as they extort him to keep his secrets, while hero-worshipping their older brother at the same time. Nicholas Ellenbogen pops up as Lindiwe’s well-meaning employer… and that is such a good way of describing the film.
It’s very well-meaning.
The response at the Durban International Film Festival at a screening for schoolchildren points the way to an audience for the film – the teens responded well to Felix’s journey, empathising with his fight to make his dream come true.
So, even though the film presents us with some stereotypical film moments (oh look, the one white teacher doesn’t like him, but that’s okay, the other one does), really what can anyone keen on watching a local film on circuit compare this to? Hollywood coming-of-age films which are just as cliché-ridden.
What makes Felix different is that it at least uses local characters in a recognisable local setting and it helps to build a reference point for future films of a similar ilk.
It can only get better from here and already, it is. Anyone remember Lucky? What about Beat the Drum? Boy Called Twist? The Flyer?