Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed May 12, 2021 11:38 am 
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Ah, Lagos

The Esiri brothers, Arie and Chukko, spent most of their early life in England going to school. As they returned periodically to their native Nigeria they report overcoming initial distrust and concern and gradually coming to appreciate and even love the place. Now they have made a first feature there, teeming with its energy - and its frustrations and heartbreaks.

When I lived in Cairo in the sixties it was the largest city in Africa. Lagos has since gotten the jump on Cairo by half a million (Lagos 21 million, Cairo 20.4 by a recent estimate), and Lagos is growing by half a million a year.

This first feature the Esiris have made, set in Lagos, is clearly impatient to show their concern and affection for the place and simply reveal to us as much as they can at one time of this world partly strange to them and yet theirs. (This is much the way my young self would have wanted to film sixties Cairo.) Eyimofe is cast in the form of two halves focused separately on two people, a man and a woman struggling to survive in the city at multiple jobs, as many do. Alive, specific, and vibrant, this film is a complete and invigorating (but also exhausting) contrast to the country's usual myriad hastily produced "Nollywood" film industry products which have little interest or value for outsiders.

Eyimofe (This Is My Desire) teems, like the city where it's set. The successive scenes, whether focused first on Mofe (the appealing Jude Akuwudike), then on Rosa (the arresting Temi Ami-Williams) are shot by skilled Beginning[ cinematographer Arseni Khachaturan largely in busy locations that show off the city - in many specific situations - as well as the protagonists; and it reminds me, in its crowded energy, of that Cairo I once knew and loved so well and have periodically revisited, finding it always larger, more overwhelming, more a nightmare, yet the spirit of its people as vigorous and charming as before. One imagines the Esiri brothers feeling the same.

But while Eyimofe has unquestionable festival appeal and is an energetic and accomplished production, it sprawls like the city and doesn't quite hang together, primarily because the two protagonists who divide the action between them have only the sketchiest narrative connection - except that both are making expensive but seemingly futile efforts to leave the country, he for Spain, she for Italy.

The struggles of Mofe are almost unbearably pathetic and intense. He is the "engineer" at a printing firm where the machinery is continually breaking down and the electrical system is dangerous. The Esiris have said "Nigeria is a third world country, so it's more difficult than other places." That's for sure. When Mofe and his new young electrician, Wisdom, handle fuses or connections they get continual shocks. The young female boss is imperious, queenly, disdainful toward Mofe when he quietly insists equipment must be replaced.

At home where Mofe lives with his sister and her young kids, a tragedy occurs. As he deals with the aftermath, he encounters impossible expenses and Kafkaesque red tape. A visit to his estranged father in the country to appeal for help is chilly and surreal. He keeps pursuing a visa, passport, other emigration arrangements, only to encounter continual additional tangled obstacles and requirements. Nonetheless he strives on. The tragedy does not deter him. At night he works at his secondary job, a street repair stand where he fixes little appliances. And so on and on. There is no poetry here, save the poetry of a human spirit that doesn't falter - not that he has not lashed out in anger at the broken wiring and fuses and incurred his lady boss's ire. This can't be Dante's Purgatory: there are too many different levels of struggle.

Rosa's life has different problems, pertaining to her young pregnant sister and men. Her two jobs are hairdresser and bartender, and she is responsible for her school age sister Grace (Cynthia Ebijie). Grace's pregnancy is problematic; she is not taking her unspecified meds, which she is warned endangers the pregnancy. Then there is the sharply dressed landlord, Mr. Vincent, who loves Rosa madly but whom she keeps at arms length, while accepting his favors because she is so needy. She's short for the rent, for medical fees for Grace, and for the travel "arrangements," which will include numerous fake documents. For this she falls under the control of unscrupulous broker Mama Esther (Nigerian comedian Chioma Omeruah in a pungent cameo), who wants the baby or, barring that, to have both women as her wage-slaves.

Mr. Vincent, courtly, generous, but needy, must take second place to Peter (Jacob Alexander), an American expatriate, who has greater means and is generous with this attractive young woman who comes to bed with him. But she goes back and forth, not wanting to be too obliged to the landlord or too overly demanding with Peter. At one point the ladies' fridge breaks (again) and thus one evening Grace meets Mofe.

The Rosa half of this picture has a gentler pace, but it has its own rhythm, and its own dire situations. It also has more interiors, and whether indoors or out, every shot has a different set of eye-candy coordinated colors in Khachaturan's increasingly ravishing images. In the maternity clinic, the walls are dark blue and the attendants' uniforms are bright red, which is prettier than it sounds. Rosa and Grace have a succession of different hairdos and outfits. But this though less turbulent and more aesthetic nightmare is still a nightmare. It's also of course a picture of ways big city urban third world problems are complicated by being unattached and female. At the end, Rosa finds a big compromise solution. In an Epilogue, things for Mofe are looking up. But nobody's going anywhere.

And that's your story, which artistically is a bit shapeless. But as the [url=""]Variety review[/url] from the 2020 Berlinale says this "low key charmer" really shines, which shows from the start, as "a clear-eyed portrait of a vibrant city, informed by the unfakeable love and well-earned exasperation of two talented native sons."

Eyomofe ((This Is My Desire), 116 mins., debuted at Berlin Feb. 2020; also IndieLisboa, Hamburg, London, Rome, Nantes (internet), San Francisco and Seattle. Screened at home for this review as part of New Directors/New Films (Apr. 28-May 8, 2021).


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