There are two main breeds of film in South Africa; the tiresome slapstick black and white buddy cop film and the politically correct feel good film. Set in both the decaying townships and the flourishing urban areas of contemporary Cape Town, Felix, a heartwarming coming of age musical tale, fits comfortably in the latter. Think Billy Elliot, exchanging dance steps with saxophone jazz. While you’ll cherish the fun loving atmosphere of the film, you can’t help feel that it all seems a bit too “7de Laan” – set in a world where everything is far less complicated than our own.
Based on Shirley Johnston’s script, Felix tells the uplifting story of an innocent and spiritful 13-year-old Felix Xaba (Hlayani Junior Mabasa) who spends most of his free time with his red pennywhistle glued to his lips, dreaming of following in the footsteps of his late father, formerly a jazz saxophonist for a popular band. When he is awarded a scholarship to an elitist private school, young Felix struggles to fit in. Soon he is bullied by the well-to-do school kids for being different (“NOCD – Not Our Class, Dear”) and for owning a lime-green bag. When the school announces a school jazz concert, Felix sees an opportunity to rise above the rest. Much to the dismay of his mother (Linda Sokhulu), who believes that “jazz is from the devil”, he requests the help of his father’s former bandmates to prepare for the big day.
Although it contains a formulaic and incredibly naïve story, Felix is filled with good cinematography matched to vivid colours and upbeat music. This, along with the chirpy acting (which feel like stage acting performances), set the tone and help deliver the positive and uplifting story. That being said, the weight of the film is mostly carried by the execution of Mabasa and Sokhulu, who deliver the only believable performances of the South African ensemble cast.
Yet, despite its flaws and stereotypes, it’s hard to deny that Felix does embody an irresistible charm and delivers a strong message to the young ones. It won the Audience Choice Award at the Durban Film Festival and is listed on the official selection for the BFI London, Hamburg, Vancouver and Lucas Film Festivals. If you set aside its simplicity, you’ll find quite an enjoyable film fit for a late Sunday afternoon. Your kids will love it!