BY ‘SEGUN ODEJIMI
I have seen many people brand Nollywood‘s first Netflix Original a love letter to the Igbos. That is spot on. Genevieve Nnaji‘s Lionheart is a love letter. And a refreshing one at that.
In these perilous times when filmmakers, backed by alleged huge cinema figures, have decided to only wrought romantic comedies and party (whether it’s a wedding or a burial) films, the 94 minutes of Lionheart is almost certain to provide joy for those who have been crying out for a post-Irapada film that sticks with indigenousness in setting, story and language. Nnaji definitely understands the “go local to go global” apothegm and it is satisfying to see her effort rewarded with the Netflix deal.
When her father (Pete Edochie) is forced to take a back seat in the day-to-day administration of the family transport business, Adaeze (Nnaji) steps up. But contrary to expectation, her uncle (Nkem Owoh) is present to be a guide. Now, Adaeze must not only prove herself to her father that she can thrive in a male-dominated space, but she must also attempt to save Lionheart Transport from the claws of a greedy businessman (Kanayo O. Kanayo).
Miss Nnaji deliberately picks Enugu as her canvass and cross-country transportation is one of the biggest businesses out of the Coal City. This choice also gives her something to work with when she decides to pay a brief visit to another major Nigerian tribe later on in the film. Nnaji’s intent is evident in her choice of actors. It is easy to see why Edoche is the Lionheart chairman. Since he announced himself as the ultimate Igbo male protagonist actor in 1987, this man has remained the localite screen darling. His voice, gait, build and the bardic nature with which Igbo proverbs and expressions escape him are no doubt contributory factors.
Yinka Edward is a brilliant cinematographer and he comes with his shine into this one. There are times when he paints Enugu in beautiful colours, using the city’s comely sun and scenery to great effect. It is what you will expect from the combination of a cinematographer of Edward’s ilk and an art director with the experience and intelligence that Pat Nebo possesses. The visual poetry in the outdoor night scene featuring Ernest and Adaeze is a chief example. But one would be forgiven for expecting more. More from this brilliant combination of heads. It is hard to recall any other scene that stands out like this one, and you would think a pre-meditated love letter would contain more paragraphs of this. The music in Lionheart is handled by Kulanen Ikyo who has been massive on projects such as The CEO and October 1 but the University of Jos graduate could have done a lot better here. Music is one of the endearing qualities of the Igbo and Genevieve Nnaji could have ensured that this film is richer in that regard. Many-a-time, scenes run close to flat because the music, supposed to set the mood, disappoints.
Dialogue is good. Not great. Asides from music, richness in language and manner of verbal expression give the South East major appeal. Dramatists and novelists such as Chinua Achebe, Flora Nwapa and Cyprian Ekwensi have accentuated the richness in the Igbo language and in the process catapulted themselves into Nigerian literary legend statuses. And while there is some goodness in the dialogue of Lionheart, you get a feeling it is too scattered in the film and nowhere near enough for such a tribal love letter. Ishaya Bako, Emil B. Garuba and CJ Obasi all have writing credits for this film and screenplay is credited to Garuba. Language could have been weightier, especially seeing as there are actors in the film with the shoulders to carry it.
The story is an easy one. A female child who intends to prove herself to her father in an industry filled with men. Her race against time plays out just as anyone would expect but characters, especially that of Kanayo O. Kanayo who gets even less screen-time than Jemima Osunde who plays Adaeze’s assistant, are underdeveloped. Some scenes are hurriedly vacated while the film’s advancement would not have suffered if a few others didn’t even exist at all.
In all, it reads like a cautious love letter. The kind you write to your crush while applying Arsène Wenger’s symbolic handbrake. A part of you wishes this letter will do the trick, but you simultaneously fear she might read it and head straight to the principal’s office to put your studentship under pressure. This cautiousness is not out of place for a first-time director. Nnaji has done well. She could have done better, but Lionheart is good enough to take its place among the better films of 2018 thanks to it being well shot.
The film would be remembered years to come for being the first one Netflix would acquire from Nigeria but not on the basis of much else.