Not the animated cat’s big-screen debut the title implies, Adventures of Felix is instead a wafer-thin, sweetly sentimental picaresque with semiserious overtones. Recently laid-off ferryman and soap-opera addict Felix (Sami Bouajila), who is HIV-positive, travels from northern France to Marseilles to visit the father he’s never met. Along the way, he collects insights into his pilgrimage via an assortment of characters he christens his “family”: a randy little brother, a grandmother (played by cabaret star Patachou), a cousin (of the kissing variety), a high-strung sister, and even a father. His filial needs thus met, Felix forgoes a get-together with biological Dad once he reunites with his lover, Daniel, in the south.
Cocreators Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau milk quite a bit of charm out of this slight scenario. For the most part, Felix is as airy as the Blossom Dearie tune it opens with, and the lush French countryside through which Felix passes—the movie’s real star—is almost as sumptuously shot as Bouajila’s frequently exposed anatomy. The filmmakers go off-track only when they emphasize the existential ambivalence of Felix’s quest. Such aspirations are at odds with the hero’s buoyantly contrived encounters with his found-family and the soggy life lessons they offer, particularly since these characters are deliberately overdrawn. Why have Felix gradually divest himself of his television-inspired sensibilities only to land him in these people’s movies of the week? This shortcoming doesn’t detract much from the lightweight goings-on, thanks mostly to Bouajila (whom you may remember from Edward Zwick’s lamentable 1998 programmer The Siege). The gangly actor’s quietly forceful performance rises miles above the melodrama while somehow keeping the movie firmly on the ground.
Dominique Deruddere’s Everybody’s Famous!, a weirdly compelling caper comedy from Belgium, isn’t earthbound to begin with. Unemployed would-be songwriter Jean (Josse De Pauw) improvises a kidnapping to wangle a singing career for his talented but unmotivated teenage daughter, Marva (Eva Van der Gucht). A cuckolded coworker, a manipulative talent agent (Victor Löw, whose spot-on, ’70s-casualty persona nearly steals the show), and the Low Countries version of Christina Aguilera figure into Jean’s hugely unlikely scheme.
Despite its corniness, predictability, and offhand sexism (picture The King of Comedy as a skit on The Benny Hill Show), as well as its disproportionate notoriety (it was nominated for last year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar), Everybody’s Famous! is too brisk and plucky to dislike. By the umpteenth performance of the song that makes improbable stars of Jean and Marva—a grating pseudo-bolero that lingers in the mind like a bad hangover—you may be forced to agree with an onscreen newscaster who sums up the film’s events as “a high day for Flemish showbiz.” Truly.