BY IFE OLUJUYIGBE
Hell or High Water, the short film, produced by The Initiative For Equal Rights (TIERs) in partnership with Asurf Films Limited is a first of its kind as it explores the issues of same sex relationships and spirituality and asks questions that need answers.
Gbolahan Jinadu is a pastor who has helped many young people find their lives’ purpose and has risen to the status of a mentor of sorts. He is respected and admired and has a wife who loves him and who is bent on igniting the spark in their marriage. But deep down, he is unhappy, and he finds his way to the place where his heart is: with Kelechi, his ex, a man. Unfortunately, Kelechi too hasn’t had it easy, as his wife left him and is fighting for custody of their ten-year-old because of his homosexual ‘disease’. Hard as they try to cover Gbolahan’s secret from the world, it still finds its way to the open and it would cost him his wife, parents, followers and joy. It would cost him everything for being different.
Hell or High Water raises many issues that require looking into, especially in a country like Nigeria where being gay gets you a fourteen-year jail term and stigma to boot. It raises questions also about the contrast of being Christian and being gay, as the tenets of the former strongly oppose the lifestyle of the latter. Unfortunately, this film raises these questions but doesn’t answer them. Not that we expect a permanent solution, but the movie sits on the fence as to where it stands about the issue. Is it siding with the rest of the world that abandons a man because they find him queer, some going as far as renouncing their association with him; or does it side with these two men whose hearts beat for each other but who are misunderstood by the world around them? This is where the film isn’t clear, and in the end, Gbolahan is seen driving off. Is he leaving town, is he going to plunge himself into a sea, is he going to beg for his life back? The writer leaves us to figure this out by ourselves.
Casting Enyinna Nwigwe and Daniel K Daniel as love interests comes across a little odd, but then again isn’t that how love works; the most unlikely people falling madly. The duo puts up a good showing, however, and has us sold on their affection. The other actors also perform satisfactorily, except the young man who begins the film with his testimony. He throws in a couple of grammatical blunders, and the tone of his voice over is slightly disconnected, distracted. Ashionye M. Racca returns to our screens graceful as ever, starring as Ejide Jinadu. Adedayo Davies and Tunbosun Aiyedehin as Gbolahan’s parents are comical and refreshing, even though it is hard to reconcile the mother’s behaviour towards her son. A mother in her shoes would be torn between going with her husband after denouncing her son, or staying with her hurting son. She doesn’t pull off the dilemma well enough. Chika Okeke is a new face, but as Hauwa, she is stellar.
The directing of Hell or High Water by Asurf Oluseyi is classic. It is lovely the way the scenes blend into one another, the way every scene is relevant and fluid. The final scene where the camera begins to move away as the car gets smaller is beautiful and reminds one of Akin Omotosho’s Vaya. It is impressive that Gbolahan’s preaching lines are not a couple of jumbled up scriptures that many Nollywood films are wont to have. They show research, they show roundedness, as written by Habeeb Lawal. It is weird though that he would go to his lover’s home with a bible. He came from his house. It doesn’t seem plausible, unless he was coming from church, or pretending to be coming from church. The flashbacks aren’t clear; they look like an exorcism in progress, but it is hard to make the images out.
Hell or High Water is succinct, deep and emotional. We are a largely homophobic country, but it gets us talking about homosexuality, asking if one has committed a crime even when they haven’t hurt anyone. I find it brave that the cast and crew of this film showed up for a theme as sensitive as this. I hope that it is addressed with more clarity moving on.