Felix in Exile is the fifth film from William Kentridge's series of nine films Drawings for Projections, started in 1989 each comprising of thirty to forty charcoal drawings. Shot in 1994 just before the first open elections in South Africa, when the questions about national identity and the relationship to one's past were most poignant the film tells the story of Felix Teitelbaum, an antipode to the merciless South African capitalist living in exile in Paris, and Nandi, a South African woman land surveyor who records her native land devastated by an unending cycle of violence through drawing. Her images find their way through to Felix, and flood his imagination with their overpowering presence. He looks into the mirror and there, too, he meets Nandi's gaze.
Looking through either sides of a telescope Felix and Nandi become a metaphor for their deep-rooted connection and an irrevocable distance that separates them at the same time with the underlying feelings of pain and loss. As Felix becomes overwhelmed by Nandi's drawings, Nandi, too is overpowered by her surroundings - she is shot, and as in the myriads of deaths she had recorded before land reclaims her back.
In his introduction to Felix in Exile, Kentridge wrote: 'In the same way that there is human act of dismembering the past there is a natural process in the terrain through erosion, growth, dilapidation that also seeks to blot out events' (W. Kentridge, '"Felix in Exile". Geography of Memory', in William Kentridge, exh. cat., Castello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, Turin 2003, p. 103). This underlying theme of Kentirdge's Drawings for Projections is also manifested through the artist's technique of erasing and redrawing each scene with charcoal and occasional use of pastel. This technique allows soft transitions from one frame to another, without having to draw each frame separately. It also leaves evidence of previous layers of drawings, which emphasises the impossibility of a complete withdrawal from one's past.