BY ANDREW OKE
One of the major problems with the average Nollywood film released today is the story. It appears that all other things such as camera gymnastics are paid attention to, but the story (not to be confused with the script) is put on the back burner. That must be the reason why present-day Nollywood films are bereft of memorable stories and are quickly forgotten. Like American cinema in the 1980s, Nollywood is at a very dire time in its history and I believe that the only way we can get out of this rut is by doing what Hollywood did a decade later, in the 1990s; look to films of the past. Films such as Fred Amata’s period piece, Ijele, which like many films of its time exhibits the very common and forever relatable theme of good versus evil.
Set in the early 19th century, the film tells the story of the titular character, Ijele (Sam Dede), a hunter and warrior from Obiligwe village that is destined to achieve great things. When the Princess of Obiligwe, Ola (Eucharia Anunobi Ekwu) connives with the village’s seer, Ufuegbu (Peter Eneh) to wrongfully ordain her as Obiligwe’s chief priestess, the rain goddess punishes the people of Obiligwe by withholding rain from the village. In order to cover up her tracks, Ola tells her father, the Eze (Olu Jacobs) that the only solution to their village’s plight is for her to get married to and be impregnated by the great hunter and warrior Ijele, who had previously rejected her hand in marriage in order to marry the young Oma (Genevieve Nnaji). Ijele must now defy his king, protect his love and uncover the truth in order to bring back the rains to his village.
Ijele is no perfect film by any standards. It has its problems, just like any other film. The film is roughly two hours long and, for some reason, it devotes about half of its run-time to nothing but setup. The characters are introduced and situations are explained and put in place, but the story does not begin until halfway through the movie. Due to this, the events and plot points in the second half of the film are tightly packed together like a tin of sardines and some of these events are not given enough attention. There is an instance early on in the second half of the film where we learn that there is a drought in the land. It is so rushed through that the fact this is occurring five years after Ola wrongfully made herself the high priestess is completely omitted, even though we learn later on in the film that it is information that is essential to the plot of film.
Despite this flaw, the film somehow manages to steer it’s way back on course with the help of great acting performances from the likes of Sam Dede, Larry Koldsweat, Patience Ozokwor, Genevieve Nnaji and Olu Jacobs as well as efficient direction from Fred Amata. It is like a thoroughbred racehorse that is slow out of the gate and lagging behind, but eventually gets into its stride and completes the race in exceptional fashion. Fred Amata’s clear vision for the film and the story it is telling is undeniable and is evident with every scene. You can tell that the film knows exactly what it is and where it has to go and the man at the reins is more than capable of taking it there.
Characters are fleshed out and their motivations are crystal clear and completely understandable. Not one character is doing anything “just because”. You don’t have a “villain” doing something evil just because she is evil. Euchariah Anunobi Ekwu’s Ola is clearly doing all the “evil” things that she does out of a place of insecurity and shame. She colludes with the village seer to ordain her the high priestess because of her personal shame and the shame that she would have to face every day from the people of Obiligwe if she is to be rejected by the rain goddess.
Ijele plays out, beat for beat, like a story told around a fire or under a tree by an elder in the village. It is simple, but it captures your attention and doesn’t let go until it is over. When you watch it, you do not see the camera techniques employed to make it look the way it does. It is raw filmmaking that focuses on doing one thing and one thing only: telling a story.
Euchariah Anunobi Ekwu: Ola
Genevieve Nnaji: Oma
Larry Koldsweat: Kanu
Olu Jacobs: Eze
Patience Ozokwor: Aku
Peter Eneh: Uguegbu
Sam Dede: Ijele
Sam Loco-Efe: The Messenger