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Funny Felix

Fears of the sophomore curse clearly didn't worry filmmaking duo Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau, who've followed their Jacques Demy-like AIDS musical "Jeanne and the Perfect Guy" with an equally off-the-wall idea, about a guy who decides to walk from northern to southern France. "Funny Felix" isn't particularly funny, but it's a remarkably felicitous movie, made with more care than seems apparent at first and celebrating that most elusive of qualities, human concourse. Pic's very flimsiness marks it as a wispy commercial proposition, though it deserves more than being stuck in the ghetto of gay fests --- to which the sexuality of its main character may doom it.

Fears of the sophomore curse clearly didn’t worry filmmaking duo Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau, who’ve followed their Jacques Demy-like AIDS musical “Jeanne and the Perfect Guy” with an equally off-the-wall idea, about a guy who decides to walk from northern to southern France. “Funny Felix” isn’t particularly funny, but it’s a remarkably felicitous movie, made with more care than seems apparent at first and celebrating that most elusive of qualities, human concourse. Pic’s very flimsiness marks it as a wispy commercial proposition, though it deserves more than being stuck in the ghetto of gay fests — to which the sexuality of its main character may doom it.

Felix (Sami Bouajila) is a happy-go-lucky, always smiling guy who lives in Dieppe, a boring town on France’s northern coast. In disarmingly offhand style, we learn that he lives happily with his male lover, Daniel (Pierre-Loup Rajot, utterly natural), is addicted to trashy TV soaps and is also HIV positive.

After being officially declared unemployed, Felix decides to visit the father he never knew in Marseilles, puts on his backpack and arranges to meet Daniel there in a week’s time. In a series of short, captioned episodes, pic charts Felix’s journey, walking and hitching, sleepin’ and lovin’, as he works his way down through France. Period.

It’s a loose, seemingly unstructured movie with no resolution and about as much narrative thrust as an Eric Rohmer pic. In Rouen, Felix narrowly escapes being beaten up, then meets a young gay artist (Charly Sergue) with whom he steals a car to have some fun but refuses to have sex. In Le Puy, Felix encounters a feisty old woman (veteran Patachou) with whom he goes shopping; on the road, he has a quickie with a guy who gives him a lift; and later, he befriends a woman (the excellent Ariane Aristide, from Robert Guediguian’s pics) who has three kids by different husbands.

One by one, Felix builds up an imaginary family in his mind, casting each person he meets in a role (younger brother, grandmother, cousin, sister). By the time he reaches Marseilles and Daniel arrives, Felix has already satisfied his familial yearnings.

It’s an extremely thin premise, and there are times when you wish the cast would break into song-and-dance to fill the gaps that dialogue can’t. But largely thanks to Bouajila’s terrific perf, it’s a strangely likable picture and — though featuring a gay protag wandering through a world drawn from a gay perspective — curiously non-exclusionary for general auds. Felix, like the movie, is a modest tribute to the power of positive thinking.

As in “Jeanne,” Ducastel and Martineau prove to be natural masters of the widescreen, with no sense of strain or bombast. Especially in night scenes, the movie has the feel of old-style CinemaScope, the shallow depth of field heightening the sense of intimacy with the characters and adding a touch of unreality that fits the pic’s fanciful flavor.

Funny Felix

(FRANCE)

Production: An Arte France Cinema/Pyramide Production presentation of a Les Films Pelleas production, in association with Gimages and Canal Plus. (International sales: Flach Pyramide Intl., Paris.) Produced by Philippe Martin. Directed, written by Olivier Ducastel, Jacques Martineau. Camera (color, widescreen), Matthieu Poirot-Delpech; editor, Sabine Mamou; art director, Louis Soubrier; costumes, Juliette Chanaud; sound (Dolby SR), Jean-Jacques Ferran, Jean-Pierre Laforce. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama), Feb. 12, 2000. Running time: 95 MIN.

With: With: Sami Bouajila, Patachou, Ariane Ascaride, Pierre-Loup Rajot, Charly Sergue, Maurice Benichou.

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