The films of Alain Gomis (b. 1972) define a richly cinematic mode of narrative portraiture. Each of his four features centers around willful characters overwhelmed by difficult circumstances that force them to question their place within a world that seems indifferent and even hostile to their plight. From the Senegalese graduate student in Gomis’ first film L’Afrance, who must decide whether to stay in Paris without papers, to the mother in his newest feature Félicité,whose desperate situation drives her to seek help from friends, family and strangers alike, Gomis’ protagonists suddenly find themselves radically disoriented, no longer able to find a stability within a place they once called home. Ultimately, L’Afrance and Félicité—as well as Andalucia and Aujourd’hui—expand to pointedly question the relationship of the individual and citizen to an uncaring state while also examining the tensions and contradictions of the multi-ethnic and multi-tribal local communities redefining French and African cities today. A fascination with the vitality and dangers of urban life gives Gomis’ films a distinct rhythm and energy as they poetically alternate between the almost stream-of-consciousness perspective of their drifting characters and raw, verité scenes of unruly, violent city streets.
Born in France into a Senegalese and Bissau-Guinean family, Alain Gomis has divided his films between France and Francophone Africa, offering a unique vista over the sharp differences and deep bonds that continue to define the relationship between Europe and its former colonies. In many ways the extreme sensitivity of his characters—who hear, touch and see their world with an acute yet wandering attention—embodies the same position and argument as Gomis’ humanist cinema, which gives dignity and moving voice to lives made difficult by socioeconomic and historical injustices while pointing to the world beyond his compelling characters and their urgent stories, toward that vital place glimpsed only from the edge of the story and frame.
Together with the Film Study Center and the McMillan-Stewart Foundation, the Harvard Film Archive is proud to welcome Alain Gomis as the winner of the Film Study Center’s 2018 Geneviève McMillan-Reba Stewart Fellowship in Distinguished Filmmaking. – Haden Guest