At the luncheon given at the French Embassy for Lincoln Center Film Society’s RENDEZVOUS WITH FRENCH CINEMA on March 11, I met the charming, dynamic, fiercely bald actress Felicite Wouassi, star of WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MYSELF/AIDE-TOI, LE CIEL T’AIDERA. In Francois Dupeyron’s social satire, she plays an African immigrant, struggling to raise four kids in the Paris projects, who hides the body of her dead husband to continue receiving his pension, and won Best Actress at the 2008 Toronto Film Festival for her performance.
Wouassi came to the attention of Director Dupeyron with her appearance in the Paris stage production of John Patrick Shanley’s play, DOUBT, in the role of the troubled mother, for which Viola Davis was recently Oscar-nominated. She was directed by Roman Polanski and found him “a wonderful director. He would say something very short and simple to me, which gave me the exact idea of how to play a scene. He would say “an inner smile” or “solitude!”, and I would know everything. He is not an easy man to know, but every day we would have tea in the afternoon, and he would tell the funniest jokes – Jewish jokes, Polish jokes – and make us feel so comfortable. I am such an admirer, too, of his wife, [actress] Emmanuelle Seigner, who came to the rehearsals once. She is such a strong actress, but many directors would not use her because she was Polanski’s wife. That is fortunately changing.” Indeed, Seigner brought her always fascinating, stormily complex presence to the film festival’s disarming CHANGE OF PLANS/LE CODE A CHANGE, directed by Daniele Thompson, playing an unhappy wife.
Wouassi seriously studied to be an actress and works pretty steadily, although she admits that being black can be an impediment in France: “Although directors want to use me, the producers will object because of my color. Things are changing, slowly, but many people still have that old-fashioned mind. I am so glad you tell me you did not care for the film AMELIE. You are the only American not to like this old-fashioned, so cliched “French” film, which tourists in Paris are so crazy for. Like PARIS 36, it is the old guard!”