La vie est belle, by Benoît Lamy and Mweze Ngangura
A true classic of African cinema, this comedy starring Congolese rumba singer Papa Wemba has recently been restored by the Institut français' Cinémathèque Afrique and has been presented in the "Fespaco Classics" section of the Ouagadougou Pan-African Film and Television Festival (25 February - 4 March 2023).
La vie est belle (1987) is the result of a collaboration between the Belgian director Benoît Lamy, known for his comedies, and Mweze Ngangura, a Congolese director, screenwriter and documentary filmmaker. The latter trained in Brussels before becoming a film teacher in Kinshasa and making numerous documentaries for national television. For La vie est belle (1987), his first major success, he teamed up with Congolese rumba star Papa Wemba, who plays Kourou, the hero of this romantic comedy. He then made several films about Brussels and its inhabitants, such as Lettres à Makura: Les derniers Bruxellois (1994) and Pièces d'identité (1998).
A breathless romantic comedy
Kourou (played by Papa Wemba), a Zairean peasant who wants to make a living from his music, decides to leave his village and go to Kinshasa. There he enters the service of a wealthy man who also becomes his rival in love. Misunderstandings and sentimental intrigue succeed one another in this film that uses all the codes of comedy to build to a climactic finale. Despite the ups and downs and the whims of fortune, the moral of the story, repeated over and over by a travelling salesman who acts as a recurring character, remains clear: "la vie est belle".
The Kinshasa music scene
Developed in Belgium from 1985 onwards, the script for La vie est belle was shot a few years later in Kinshasa. The capital of Zaire was in the grip of an unprecedented economic crisis at the time during the final years of Mobutu's reign. Both a gripping insight into Zairean society and a light comedy, La vie est belle is also a true testimony to the Kinshasa music scene. With a soundtrack by Papa Wemba, enhanced by several singing sequences that borrow from musicals, this is the feature film that would definitively launch Mweze Ngangura's career on the international scene.
A classic of African cinema
La vie est belle is one of the most successful African films of the 1980s. The film became a cult hit throughout sub-Saharan Africa, benefiting greatly from the aura of its star Papa Wemba. This comedy, which is both timeless and very much of its time, has just been restored by the Cinémathèque Afrique of the Institut français. To mark this fact, it will be presented at FESPACO Classics, the annual meeting of West African cinema. The film is also be available on IFcinema, and allowing it to be shown throughout the French cultural network abroad.
Charged with preserving and disseminating African film heritage, the Institut français holds one of the largest collections of African films from the 1960s to the present day.
Created in 1961 by the Ministry of Cooperation, the Cinémathèque Afrique contributes to the preservation, restoration, digitization, promotion and dissemination of African cinema worldwide. It provides researchers and programmers with a catalogue of over 1,700 titles, including over 600 royalty-free titles for non-commercial distribution.