BY IFE OLUJUYIGBE
Kunle Afolayan’s October 1 ranks highly on my imaginary list of Most Anticipated Nigerian Movies of all time. It is somewhere between Figurine and The CEO, two other movies produced and directed by this director. But then again, I am not surprised (Okay, truth be told, nothing Mr. Kunle does surprises me anymore. If I hear he shot a movie on the moon, or in a location near hell sef, I’ll just shout ‘Yeh!’ and return to what I was doing.) This man gives every sweat drop in his pores to his work. He gives all that he’s got and then some, and this is why he gets the results he gets. His is the passion that separates mere hard work from great work. But let’s not make this about him.
October 1 is a story set during the period right before Nigeria’s independence in 1960. It focuses on a small town of Akote which, within a space of days, witnesses a continuous series of virgin killings done under very similar circumstances and left with identical scars. A police detective, Inspector Danladi Waziri is sent to the town by the European lords to resolve the case before the 1st of October, based on an impeccable record he has from past cases. He reaches the town and is assisted by Sergeant Sunday Afonja, who serves as both mediator and interpreter because of the inspector’s limited knowledge of the language of the town.
After a series of investigations, arrests, and the death of a Hausa man by the hands of an Ibo bereaved who feels cheated, the culprit is discovered to be the king’s highly respected learned son, Prince Aderopo (beautifully portrayed by Ademola Adedoyin). Unfortunately, when the case is resolved on the first of October, the European lords sweep it under the rug because the revelation of the real culprit is not in their best interests.
One thing that instantly jumps at you is the storyline. It is titled October 1, and just when you think you know all that there is to be known based on its title, the writer, Tunde Babalola, comes from a completely different angle, one that doesn’t necessarily centre around Nigerian Independence. It is unconventional, clearly a product of patient creativity and thought.
The execution is brilliant, and one expects that certain parts must have been acted again and again to perfection. Kunle is specific: a Hausa detective; probably in his fifties or early sixties, an unsuspecting palace guard madly in love with a victim of circumstance, Mr. Winterbottom (Nick Rhys) and his many hilarious expressions, a primary school teacher who still bears regrets of the disadvantages of her gender, and a quest for revenge on a community that is ignorant of its crime. The specificity comes clearly across.
The interpretations are commendable. As the Inspector Waziri, Sadiq Daba is calm and calculated, wearing his role like a birth sac he was born in. He neither overdoes nor underdoes, and feels like a perfect fit despite being away from the acting scene for a while. Sergeant Afonja is hilarious, even when he isn’t trying to be. This is expected, however, because Kayode Aderupoko has all his bones tattooed with humor. When he stands up to the inspector in defense of the Chief priest, you almost feel sorry for him as he is caught between obeying orders in the line of his work and obeying tradition. He chooses the latter and earns a suspension for his troubles. As Tawa, Kehinde Bankole is the shy but educated village teacher, who is excited about the prospects of finally being with the most eligible bachelor in town. Her role earned her an AMVCA for best female actress of the year 2014.
There are cameo appearances from other brilliant actors like Bimbo Manuel who is the village Catechist and Ifayemi Elebuibon as the Chief Priest. Femi Adebayo as Banji is the life of the party, switching easily from his mother tongue to English language and feeling like an educated village champ. As the school headmaster, Abiodun Aleja is not very believable. His acting feels like acting, and doesn’t help the near-perfect movie. Another downer would be the murder of Usman Dangari (Saeed Mohammed) which is done from meters away with a cutlass. I’m not sure a killing like that can be that perfect unless you’re a member of Arrow’s League of Assassins.
The attention to detail is fascinating. The train, the passers-by, the props, the language, the music, even the hairstyles. Kunle casts himself as Agbekoya, a man who no longer believes in Western education because of the trauma he faced as a child in the hands of Father Dowling, a priest who molested young boys. The emotion, especially when he flashes back to the night he finally murders the priest, is poignant. You feel it deep within your soul. You feel the same thing when an innocent Usman Dangari is made to bear a guilt he didn’t cause, and is killed for it. You feel it in the eyes of Okafor (Kanayo O. Kanayo) as he owns up to his crime in justification of being a man and defending his daughter’s honor. If he only knew that her honor was never truly defended. You feel it, even more strongly, when Corporal David Omolodun (Fabian Adeoye Lojede), a promising police officer with a fiancé and a great future ahead of him, is killed by the king’s son in his line of duty. It is at this moment that you cry, bitterly, because the pain has crawled under your skin and stung. You are not only bitter, but angry at life’s unfairness.
And because every emotion in the movie becomes so real to you, you cannot but love October 1, for this is what a movie should do. October 1 keeps you guessing, and even when you realize who the culprit is and think you have reached a climax, you soon discover you really have not.
October 1 touches on issues of religion, tribalism, politics, justice, gender discrimination and superstition, among several others. It does all these with a smoothness that doesn’t jump at you. Kunle Afolayan has managed to touch on different aspects of the African culture in all his movies, and the effect of civilization on that culture. And he has done it well in October 1. The final statement of the movie, made by one of the European lords is something deserving of a selah!: good or bad, it’s your country now.
I give the film an 85.