Felix

***

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Felix
"Mabasa is delightful in the lead."

Sometimes a film come along that isn't technically striking and doesn't have much depth to its story but stands out simply because it has bucketloads of charm. Felix is such a film, and its proper audience - children and teenagers who still believe that dreams can come true - will love it.

Felix (Hlayani Junior Mabasa) is a 13-year-old living in Cape Town who wins a scholarship to a prestigious private school. Getting along there, with mostly white kids from an alien social background, is not so easy, and even though he learns fast and does make some friends, Felix faces bullying. His escape is playing on his penny whistle, with which he demonstrates prodigious talent. But Felix has another problem - his mother, who lost the man she loved to alcohol, is terrified of where his love of music might lead him. She does all she can to stifle his growing ambitions. With a big concert coming up at the end of term, will Felix get the chance to share his talent on stage, and can he win his mother over?

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There are no real surprises here and it's a story we've seen many times before, but Mabasa is delightful in the lead and the music (if we leave out the early practice with a new instrument) is a joy to listen to. It functions as a useful tool for exploring the culture gap, with European classical music at the school blending with the jazz played on the streets and in the bars, and distinctively South African approaches to infusing music with joy. Felix learns to inhabit both worlds and his efforts to bring them together remind us of the historical importance of music in bringing people together. Many white adult characters in the film - even kind hearted, liberal ones - still demonstrate awkwardness when talking to black people. Among the children, racism is rare and, for the most part, mingling seems easy. It's an optimistic portrait of the nation's future.

Though her role is somewhat strained, Linda Sokhulu works well as Felix's mother, carrying a weight of sorrow that goes unacknowledged elsewhere in the story. Felix's brother and sister want to know why she hates their father and go through their own coming of age process as they begin to understand that it might be love, rather than hate, that makes her behave the way she does. For the most part, though, the emotional journeys depicted here are simple ones, writ large. There's a focus on redemption and inclusion, and a large dose of humour to carry the story along.

Focused, energetic and big-hearted, Felix is great family viewing.

Reviewed on: 23 Jan 2014
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A family story of determination, dreams and jazz.


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