Felicità, the latest film from French director and writer Bruno Merle, takes its title from the ‘80s Italian song of the same name. In the opening scene Tim (Pio Marmaï) and Chloe (Camille Rutherford) have a conversation with their 10 year old daughter Tommy (Rita Merle) in a roadside café. When she removes her ubiquitous sound blocking headphones, she impassively hears her Dad gently lead her into an elaborate tale of her origins involving an old flatmate called Aurélien who is now the French rapper Orelsan. After lending a patient ear, she gives her judgement of ‘Funny. Very funny.’ That’s followed by Tim’s dismay at losing the knack of fooling his daughter.
His credible delivery, backed up by a poker faced Chloe, sets the tone of the film where Tim and Chloe’s life is a constant tease and full of fabulous lies yet their small family unit has a strength and mutual understanding that overrides their untamed lifestyle. Tim may have been in jail for the first four years of Tommy’s life, but how many Dads tattoo their child’s changing height on their arm? His parental advice is “Normal people have something to hide.”
With the day’s progress shown by the digital figures on screen, the narrative takes place over a very short time scale, just at the end of the school holidays, part of which they have spent squatting in the house where Chloe cleans. When the owners return home early, the team goes in to swift action to cover their tracks and return everything to normal (well almost – no spoilers). Chloe going back to the house to do her shift as a cleaner and failing to return triggers a chain of events that, rather than destroy the family bond, beautifully compounds it.
From the playing of the song that gives the film its title as a memory track when they escape the house unnoticed, the range of music that features plays a significant part. Original music by Pygmy Johnson includes styles as varied as spaghetti western and hints of les Playmobiles with rocking Gene Vincent’s I’m Going Home to See My Baby as the film’s closing track.
Bruno Merle has created a thoroughly enjoyable and highly amusing piece of cinema that is of now yet remains deeply French. The cast is all beautiful; the characters philosophise; there are alternative narratives. It is full of self-references, but a most pleasing one is the appearance of a philosophising spaceman played by Aurélien Cotentin who is actually the rapper Orselan.
In this quite delicious mix of reality and fantasy, the off the grid trio, who endearingly retain a sense of play and real love, has the viewer on side thanks to the winning cast and clever script. Like Tim’s opening fib, Felicità is wickedly funny.