BY IFE OLUJUYIGBE
You will leave the cinema, after watching Esohe, with a puzzled look. It will be the Odunlade Adekola meme expression, showing him baring both his palms forward like, “What did I just see?”. And your question will be valid, because you will truly not know what you have just seen. And when you ask your neighbor, they most likely will not know either, that is if you have any neighbours left by the time the film is over.
We were three that began to watch Esohe in the cinema. Two more people came in within the first ten minutes, and then we were five. We were three when the film was over, and to be honest, I was impressed that we were that many left. Because Esohe is confused. The actors themselves were probably confused, and most likely did not get the entire script, or they would have asked questions. Esohe doesn’t exactly have a story. It is just a couple of Bini-speaking/Yoruba-speaking actors coming together in traditional attires and brilliant makeup by Hakeem Onilogbo (Hakeem Effect), and saying the first few things that come to mind. It is them being mysterious, then not, then being mysterious, then not.
Gary, a university lecturer in Atlanta, USA, feels like his soul is being pulled to Nigeria for answers. So he leaves it all and comes, along with his Caucasian girlfriend, Claire. Another woman, Eseosa, is on their flight and meets them at the airport, and there’s yet another woman at the airport, Eno, who arrives as well. In something that looks like a flashback, a child is born with a putrid smell and a complication that leaves his mother dead at childbirth. The verdict is that he be killed, but on the murderer’s way, she falls, and the baby is tossed into the river. An old Yoruba woman finds him, names him Ifagbai and raises him as her own.
But the bad smell must have mysteriously transformed into a ‘demonic’ horned-look and an inability to speak when Ifagbai is older, because we do not hear of it anymore. Then he meets and falls in love with a catechist’s daughter, Esohe, the same girl the town’s prince and a warlord are in love with. The woman at the airport is kidnapped, and finds that she is a seer, alongside Gary who is now in Benin and missing, and while Claire is looking for him everywhere, it appears she too becomes a seer.
I’ll do well to save you the rest of this torture that goes on for hours. But Esohe is not sure of what it wants to say, or perhaps it is, but just doesn’t say it right to the point of comprehension, which is sad because it boasts of many prominent actors who otherwise should give a great show. It is worse because screenplay credits go to Bimbo Manuel, one of Nollywood’s most respected actors, and the directing, according to IMDB, was done by not one, but two established directors, Charles Uwagbai of Bro Jekwu, and Robert O Peters of A Trip To Jamaica. In retrospect, and because you have now read the synopsis, you realise it is a story of reincarnation of lovers, but with the many unnecessary ingredients, it gives a sour taste.
It appears Nollywood may still not have gotten the Benin kingdom storytelling right, especially of reincarnation. Most of the films set in Benin are turned into a Rubik’s cube on its audience, or just become ridiculous as they progress. Iyore and The Antique are classic examples, and it is worse because reincarnation and rivalry aren’t the only stories obtainable from Benin Kingdom. There is more, there has to be.
Esohe features Jimmy Jean-Louis, Chris Attoh, Toyin Abraham, Jemima Osunde, Shawn Faqua, Bimbo Manuel, Desmond Elliot, Ufuoma Mc-Dermott, Misty Lockheart, Hellen Enado Odigie, Monica Omorodion Swaida to mention a few.
Asides from its confusing story is the acting, which is generally unmoving, especially from its foreign cast. It looks like a badly-done stage play, with actors underdoing and overdoing. Chris Attoh plays Ifagbai who doesn’t speak at all, and while the attempt at something beautiful is apparent, his portrayal doesn’t elicit the emotion it tries to. Desmond Elliot as Johnny brings humor, but we don’t even know who his character is. Jemima Osunde and Bimbo Manuel who play daughter and father are a joy, but their performances drown in the pointlessness of unclear events. The costuming is bland, with an undignified Oba’s palace and royalties that do not appear so royal. From the beginning, scenes are abrupt and disjointed, editing seems rushed, and discrepancies in continuity are heavy. There are issues with sound and visuals, like a scene where wild animals are shown for no real reason, probably lifted from an old documentary with low resolution.
Many of the characters sound obtuse. They talk like characters from a moonlight folklore, like the tortoise who claims his name is ‘Everybody’ and the birds that allow him eat their food because of it.
Esohe is an unpleasant surprise. It has too many issues for a film with such gleaming potential. You would ask what certain scenes mean, who certain people are, why certain people say what they say or do what they do, and you would find your questions bounce off the cinema walls and return to you, unanswered. I really did think Blind Spot was the worst we could get this year, but I cannot, in all conscience, consider Esohe any much better.