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Cinema Review: 8 Bars & A Clef – A Newbie Director’s Shaky Hands Births An Abiku

BY ANDREW OKE

So far 2016 has not exactly been a great year for Nigerian cinema films. Week in and week out, it’s the same thing: a highly publicised film ends up being a waste of the audience’s money and for lack of a more appropriate word; a dud. Chioma Onyenwe’s 8 Bars & a Clef joins that unflattering list.

The movie stars musician; IBK Spaceshipboi as a dyslexic singer and/or rapper (the movie never specifically says or shows which one); Victor E, who has to overcome his learning disability and anger issues brought on by an abusive childhood to make it in the Nigerian music industry and stay at the top of his game.

We see Victor E grow up with a supportive and sickly sister (Kehinde Bankole), a neglectful mother (Bimbo Akintola) and an abusive, alcoholic stepfather (Ade Bantu). His dyslexia holds him back in school, but with the help of his sister, he learns how to read, using beats and music as a guide.

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The first ten to fifteen minutes of the movie were surprisingly very engaging. Seeing this boy try to overcome his learning disability with the help of his caring sister is truly heart warming and you empathise with him when his mother kicks him out, forcing him to do menial jobs to survive. However, once all that is over and we meet adult Victor E for the first time, the movie takes a drastic turn for the worst. The editing of the movie suddenly becomes more erratic and very obviously rushed, almost as if the film’s editor cut and pasted the entire film in an afternoon and no one, not even the director, took a look at it before it hit the cinemas. The film jumps back and forth between scenes that even the untrained eye could see should not come after one another, and for some reason, scenes cut abruptly, disrupting the natural flow of the story and completely taking the audience out of the film every time.

For a movie about music, there is not a lot of music in it. Victor E sings and/or raps on only two occasions in the entire film, each time lasting just about thirty seconds. Almost throughout the film, Victor E complains about his label trying to change his “sound”, but not once is this almighty phantom “sound” ever even heard. Why then should an audience care about a sound that they have not heard and are not sure even exists?

The abysmal editing and non-existent music in 8 Bars and a Clef is not helped in any way by the performance of the film’s lead. IBK Spaceshipboi, as most people know, is not an actor and he proved that beyond  reasonable doubt in 8 Bars and a Clef. He managed to suck the life out of every scene he was in, diminishing the performances of much better actors around him. His attempts to properly deliver his lines were almost as atrocious as his attempts to show genuine human emotions, which left this reviewer screaming at the screen in disdain. This is a perfect example of a terrible casting decision if ever I have seen one.

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Thankfully the movie isn’t a one-man show starring IBK Spaceshipboi. Almost all the other actors delivered, the standout performer being Bimbo Akintola who stole and ran off with every scene she was in. Kehinde Bankole and Linda Ejiofor also gave strong performances as Victor E’s sister and lover, respectfully. Even Ade Bantu gave a surprisingly adequate performance in his Nollywood debut. Maybe he should have given IBK Spaceshipboi a few pointers.

I feel like there’s a half decent movie in there somewhere, but a terrible casting choice and the decision to hire a butcher to edit the film have rendered 8 Bars and a Clef for the most part, unwatchable.

But perhaps there’s hope. Chioma Onyenwe is an emerging director and there’s enough somewhere in this film to go out on a limb for her and say, when she gets her feet firmly planted on the ground and can make better casting decisions and not hire a butcher masquerading as an editor, she may well be one to watch out for.

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