The Adventures of Felix (Drôle de Félix)

 
Robin Clifford 

Laura Clifford 
Felix (Sami Bouajila, "The Siege") lives a contented life with his boyfriend Daniel (Pierre-Loup Rajot) in the little town of Dieppe in Northern France. When he is laid off from his job, after discovering the address of the father who abandoned him before he was born, he decides to journey to Marseilles, in the south, to find the man he never met in "The Adventures of Felix."

Robin:
Writers/directors Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau made their debut with the musical comedy "Jeanne and the Perfect Guy," embracing that typically American genre. Their second effort, "The Adventures of Felix," once again borrows from America with a tale of a young man who hits the road to find himself. Felix is happy with his life in Dieppe, but when the ferry company he works for falls prey to the economics of the Chunnel, he is out of a job and at loose ends. When he goes through his late mother's papers he learns that the father he never knew is living in Marseilles, hundreds of miles away.

Felix makes the snap decision to journey to the south, puts together a supply of "cocktails" for his HIV virus, kisses Daniel goodbye and heads off on foot. He refuses to use trains and wants to avoid big cities as he hitchhikes across France to find his destiny. Along the way, a series of chance encounters with various strangers teaches Felix that family is not always made up of blood relations. On the road, he witnesses a race-related mugging that turns into murder and, frightened for his own safety, runs away without telling the police.

Following this harrowing experience, he has his first chance meeting that begins the unconscious construction of his ideal family. His journey brings him to Rouen, and the film's first title section, "my little brother," where he meets Jules, a young art student who becomes smitten with Felix. They steal a car and develop a chaste, brotherly affection before Felix must move on. He next meets elderly Mathilde (Patachou), in the chapter titled "my grandmother," and soon learns that she, too, has a fondness for the same TV soap opera that Felix has grown addicted to. She wants him to stay with her, but he must continue on his way to find his father.

In the weakest chapter of Felix's road trip, titled "my cousin," he meets a railroad worker (Philippe Garziano) and has a brief sexual encounter before heading off, once again, toward Marseilles. He next helps a stranded lady motorist, Isabelle (Ariane Ascaride), and shags a ride with her and her three kids (each with a different daddy) in the sequence titled "my sister." He is torn by the inner turmoil of not going to the police about the murder he witnessed and Isabelle comforts him just as a sister would. On the final leg of the journey titled "my father," he meets an older man, a fisherman (Maurice Benichou), who enlightens him about the real facts of life and family while they fly Felix's kite, just like a father and son.

"The Adventures of Felix" has a number of things going for it as we follow Felix on his journey of discovery. First and foremost is the charming performance by Sami Bouajila as Felix. He is a likable guy, fighting his HIV with his doses of "cocktails," and lights up the screen as he makes the long walk, often with dance and song, to find his father and himself. As he encounters each member of his new family, promising each that he will send a postcard when he arrives at his final destination, he grows a little bit more spiritually and emotionally. Bouajila does a terrific job holding center stage on the screen.

The cast of characters making up Felix's new-found family are nearly as charming as the star, each in their own way. Patachou, especially, is wonderful as the grandma character and a kindred spirit to Felix. Ariane Ascaride, along with her kids, gives a perf that really makes you think of her as the sister that the young man never had. Only the "cousin" chapter lacks the emotional depth of the rest and feels like a perfunctory addition to Felix's "family."

"The Adventures of Felix" does not reinvent the road movie, but it does provide a charismatic telling of a young man's journey to find himself and, to his surprise, his discovery is dramatically different than he expected at the beginning. It helps that cinematographer Matthieu Poirot-Delpech's crisp lensing compliments the story perfectly as Felix moves across the French countryside. I give it a B+.

Laura:
When Felix (Sami Bouajila, "The Siege") loses his job, he decides to travel from Dieppe to Marseilles to visit the father he never knew.  He buys his teacher boyfriend Daniel (Pierre-Loup Rajot) a ticket to meet him in a week's time and sets off on a journey that will net him a family of a different kind in "The Adventures of Felix" (Drole de Felix).

The writer/director partnership of Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau ("Jeanne and the Perfect Guy") begin their film by establishing Felix' loving relationship with Daniel in the coastal Normandy town of Dieppe. Daniel is amused to discover that Felix has become addicted to a soap opera during his job on a commuter ferry boat, Felix has a run-in with an inexperienced kite flyer and he visits the local clinic for his HIV cocktail. These three experiences will gain new significance as part of Felix' trip.

Once Felix hits the road, his adventures are titled as 'My little brother,' 'My grandmother,' 'My cousin,' 'My sister,' and finally 'My father.'  These relationships are all symbolic and recognized by the audience well before Felix makes the connection.

Sami Bouajila has our good will before he sets out on the road, where his tendency to break out into song and dance as he travels makes him even more endearing.  His first significant encounter, where he witnesses a fellow Arab being beaten in a racist attack in Rouen, will haunt the rest of his journey.  Felix bounces back by assisting a young art student, Jules (Charly Segue), a seventeen year old who sneaks Felix into his bedroom for the night hoping for romance.  The two 'borrow' a car and later Felix takes Jules into his first disco (they get thrown out when Jules' age is discovered).  Felix defines their relationship as like a younger/older brother, disappointing Jules but leaving him with new life experiences, and moves on.

Felix is prodded awake by Mathilde (cabaret singer Patachou in a marvelous comedic performance), a firecracker of an older woman who insists that he carry her groceries.  This sequence is rich with warm humor, as Felix does the chores Mathilde's son never gets around to while his sexuality makes her relive her wild youth ('I was a hot tomato.').  Their shared morning ritual of pill taking and soap opera viewing over breakfast highlights the similarities between two diverse individuals.

'The Cousin' sequence, where Felix meets a railroad worker (Philippe Garziano) and shares outdoor sex and some kite flying, is perfunctorily handled and doesn't mesh well with the film's themes or pacing.  Felix moves on to assist a woman on the side of the road.  Isabelle (Ariane Ascaride, "Marius et Jeannette") is going in Felix' direction, but must make stops along the way to deliver her three children to their three respective fathers.  The kids provide some hilarity, especially when young Tonio (Adrien Auzias) challenges Felix' conventional ideas about family.  Felix' final encounter with an old fisherman (Maurice Benichou) leaves them both with fresh outlooks on life and is satisfyingly poignant.  A worried Daniel meets up with a more self aware, but still boyishly engaging, lover ready to take a romantic holiday.

Director of Photography Matthieu Poirot-Delpech captures the glories of his north to south French locations in brilliant color while the classical guitar score provides a Middle Eastern flavor.  Except for that one abruptly handled sequence, Ducastel and Martineau deliver a socially conscious, humanistic, funny road movie that's always engrossing.  "The Adventures of Felix" and its star have charm to spare.

B+

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