BY IFE OLUJUYIGBE
It’s the first time I’m seeing Ini Dima-Okojie, ever, but I’ll confess I love her already. What’s not to love? By the way, a little birdie tells me she is a product of the New York Film Academy, and I nod and say Aye! Place her in a movie alongside OC Ukeje, and what you have is beautifully romantic magic!
Muyiwa Aluko’s North East is a story of love (is it a season of love all of a sudden?) between people from the North and the East. If you are a Nigerian, you’d know that this isn’t the easiest of loves. Emeka Okafor is a physiotherapist who runs a dance group on the side. He meets and immediately falls for Hadiza Ahmed, a patient in the hospital he works at, and fate is so kind that it brings her to him for therapy.
They hit off, albeit slowly at first owing to Hadiza’s impatience and Emeka’s clumsiness, but soon it flares into an inferno, and they can’t seem to get enough of each other.
On the side is Musa, Hadiza’s father who is supposedly a widower and in love with an Ibo woman, Ijeoma (Carol King). It turns out Ijeoma is in fact, Emeka’s mother, and as soon as the connections are discovered, trouble begins to brew from Musa’s end. He is absolutely uncomfortable with his daughter getting with an Ibo Christian man, and worse still, the son of his prospective wife. He does all he can to discourage the lovebirds from being together. Ijeoma, in contrast, is willing to sacrifice her relationship for her son’s. She gives her support and ends things with Musa. It takes more than a one-sided consent, however, to get their marriage approved, and Musa would rather die than give his.
North East offers an interesting and rare perspective to intertribal love stories with its mother-father, son-daughter romance. This kind of complication walks on very thin ice, bearing a huge risk of turning out a hot mess but it doesn’t, because the four major actors do an absolutely fantastic job with their interpretations that it is hard not to think of them as your next door neighbours and not just some fancy actors on a screen. They are that believable. And because the casting is so airtight, the movie is hard to fault.
I commend the subtle message that is passed. Musa is unaware of his hidden tribalistic and chauvinistic tendencies until a life situation presents itself. It says a lot about the average Nigerian, who might condemn vices from a distance but would crumble in the face of it. Musa paints his grouse to be against a seemingly incestuous union, seeing that he wants to marry the mother of the man that wants to marry his daughter, but his real issue is with the fact that said man is from the East and of a different religion, and that revelation is made when he puts a call through to Aliyu (Funky Mallam), a man he had recommended as good husband material for his daughter, to rain insults on him for being slow and allowing a stupid Ibo boy to take his place. He isn’t aware that Ijeoma is within earshot, and when he finally does, it is too late to defend himself.
One scene that is particularly interesting is when Hadiza goes to Emeka’s home to break things up with him because of an argument she had with her father. Emeka pays her no mind and instead asks for her father’s whereabouts, and when he is told that Musa is out of town for the weekend, there is a mischievous smile on both their faces. That chemistry, the playfulness in their eyes and smiles, the believable jealousy when other people try to get their attention; these are the things that make North East shine.
The wedding scene, though interesting, drags on for far too long. The song performed by Capital F.E.M.I. and the choreography are beautiful, but perhaps adding the full performance into the movie was unnecessary. The premise of their meeting is also really sketchy. A physiotherapist in a hospital brimming with patents, goes into a random girl’s room when she is still in a coma, and begins to read to her? Is it love at first sight, and if it is, just how do you love a complete stranger who lies beat and stiff, for no reason? If the writer had found a more favorable excuse for their meet, perhaps that would have worked better.
For actors who aren’t even from Northern Nigeria in real life, Gbenga Titiloye as Musa, and Ini as Hadiza do a fantastic job; you would not, for a single moment, doubt their tribes if you didn’t know who they were. As Aliyu, Saeed Funky Mallam is funny. He is also pretentious and callous, but speaks so fluently he makes you want to learn to speak his language. There’s undeniably no chemistry between Ijeoma and Musa though, and the fact that we don’t understand the basis of their relationship makes it hard for us to comprehend their ‘I love yous’. I mean, every single time they’re shown together feels like a business meeting.
North East is entertaining, and if you are a lover of mush, you would have many smiley moments watching it. Production quality may not be at its best, but the solid characterization and decent story cover a multitude of transgressions. Amen?
I’ll give it a 60.