With a title like Ehis’ Bitters, you most likely already know this is a Biodun Stephen film, following in the footsteps of similar sounding titles from her previous works; Ovi’s Voice, Tiwa’s Baggage, Sobi’s Mystic. Somehow, this brilliant filmmaker finds a way to pull off these titles with justifying and mostly amazing stories, and we can’t wait for the next ‘who’s what’ title she pulls out of her bag of tricks.
Ehi’s Bitters is a story of Ehisoje, a young girl who is being emotionally and physically abused by her mother who blames her for her predicament of never having a husband. Because of the stigma society places on single mothers, Ehisoje’s mother believes her daughter is the cause of all her life’s misfortunes and hates her with fiery hatred, so much so that she permits others to abuse her just so she can have her way.
Ehisoje finds solace in her friend and classmate, Korede, whose mother takes her in when she gets pregnant at fifteen. Twenty-two years later, Ehi is a proud mother who has love all around her, but the bitterness has eaten deep, and she can’t seem to shake it off or move past it to recognize and accept the love before her.
I love how Biodun Stephen tells these very simple yet relevant stories, adding several pieces of heart into them and moving her audience. Watching Ehi’s Bitters may not make you tear up, but it surely will bring you close. You understand the reason for everyone’s actions, and while it is easy to brand Ehi’s mother the villain, you realize her reasons run deep too and are left to blame society for being the way it is.
Story-wise, Ehi’s Bitters works. It also works with its casting, with Debby Felix and Enado Odigie giving sterling performances as Ehisoje, Tomiwa Tegbe and Deyemi Okanlawon bringing on the love as Korede, and Fathia Balogun rousing our bile (and not in a bad way) as Ehisoje’s mother. Joshua Richards plays Eli, Ehi’s son, and Biodun Stephen spices things up with a bit of humor as Mama Korede.
Where this movie fails to work, and conspicuously so, is in its technical areas. Lights keep flickering as scenes are being shot, the makeup is quite unrealistic, the props could be better, cinematography screams amateurish, and there’s inconsistency in Fathia’s portrayal of her role as an Edo woman in her intonations. One moment, she says Ashewo, the very next, she catches herself and says Ashawo, then repeats it so we can believe it. We don’t.
Perhaps it is because Fathia has been in Yoruba movies for years. We are glad she is transitioning into the English film space, but being believable in a role that isn’t Yoruba might require some extra practice and directing, due diligence that seems to be lacking here.
Ehi’s Bitters’ technical challenges wear off a large chunk of its brilliance, but it still manages to remain one movie that would touch you, move you and stay with you, a testament to the fact that at the heart of art, the story remains king. The movie is written, produced and directed by Biodun Stephen.