It is called ‘A Hotel Called Memory’ and it was conceived to break the monotony that is today’s Nigerian Movie industry. It was meant to be different to throw to the front burner the artistic quality that some of us know we have as a people, and finally break the chains of impunity that we are fed with almost on a daily basis, by ‘roadside’ producers who have happened on a bustling and exciting industry.
When the call came, I was quite expectant. We all grew up with Anne Hastrup. What 30 year old in this town did not run home every Thursday at 8pm sharp to watch Anne and Segun. They were the first and original power couple. Her quiet beauty and calm mien had always intrigued me. I was among the sad majority who lamented her seeming disappearance and have as such been rooting for her return with bated breath. Personally, this was an opportunity to renew an undying crush, to stand from afar and behold her aquiline features while enjoying her creativity within the lush ambiance of the newly erected structure which stands magnificently on the lagoon daring you to ignore it.
On arrival at the venue, we were herded to an outpost that opened up to the Lagoon. You walk and meander around the ‘celebrities’ hoping to be recognised. The TV crew walking past you looking for the next interviewee. I was looking at them as they ignored me. The fact that I was wearing my Mudi Linen pants and a new Philip Plien T-shirt Tola had just sent to me from London did not help my case. They looked through this casually dressed mallam in red and black slippers as they chased RMD, Alibaba and my other colleagues.
Finally we were herded into the hall within the brilliant building and the movie started. It was billed as a silent movie and it was indeed silent. Nse Ekpe Etim immediately grabs the screen with so much magnetic power that you cringe. Her telling face grabbing your attention with the sad look that seems to be permanently etched on her face even when out of character. She emits effusive passion willfully controlling the audience, keeping their attention and forcing them to do her bidding. This was her movie, silent or not she was going to stamp her authority with the boldness that has characterised most of her performances. The film was deep, it forced you to think, it threw you into the deep end of the pool without the safety of a life jacket. This film expects you to get your bearing right. The arrogance of the production hits you mercilessly and dares you to turn and walk away because you will not hear any sound no matter how hard you wished.
The cinematic approach was close to perfection. I could not not understand why every other thing on the screen had sound except Nse and her two suitors. Maybe it was me who did not understand this movie. I did not understand the message but the sheer excellence of Nse on screen kept me engrossed. My friend Lala who sat directly in front of me suddenly came on screen. I like her, her energy and passion always impresses me and she gave her best although silently.
As I watched, I was taken to Zanzibar and Cape town, even my dear Lagos was not left out. My regret being that the Director still in silent mode did not dwell on the iconic locations that define these places but however gleaned past these exotic cites concentrating only on the story he was trying to tell.
As I cited Taiwo Ajai Lycett, the legendary actress just beside me, I suddenly saw Mandela’s prison cell on screen with an obviously distraught young lady in focus. This was supposed to be Nse’s rival. She was well endowed and had an electric personality even though she remained in mute mode. The pain etched on her face made you want to jump in and help. She was in pain and she showed us the pain. Every pore on her beautiful face screaming to be released by the madness her soul had been thrown into by this rogue who had been stolen by the ‘MILF’ from Lagos. I could feel my understanding soul leave my body heading towards Cape Town to join in the fight to release this wondering spirit from the bondage of pain.
When you really do not have creative limits on your canvas, you begin to lose focus. Akin Omotoso, the director stretched this liberty too far with the various flashbacks which ended up confusing my now weary soul. I later was told that these were no ordinary flashbacks but scenarios playing in Nse’s mind as she contemplated her journey to her young lover.
The most electric scene for me, was Nse revelling in bed in an exotic skimpy outfit. Was not sure what she wanted to tell us, but I remained fixated at her sexy self. She remains a mysteriously beautiful woman. As she rolled on the bed, I also took the liberty of floating towards her. I closed my eyes and saw myself on that bed in Zanzibar telling her to forget her sun scorched husband and her toy boy and come into my arms for I would be offering her the kind of peace that had eluded her since we started watching the movie. I offered to buy the ‘Wings building’ for her, if only she would kiss my lips ever so softly like she attempted to do with that errant young boy who simply did not know what to do with her on the same bed, when he had the opportunity. My revelry was brought to a rude awakening when I suddenly felt people standing up to leave and one quick glance at the screen saw Nse glide into a culturally exquisite landmark building with her pert behind waving me a gentle good bye. That was it.
As I stood to leave, I could not fathom what I had just seen. Was this going to be a commercially successful movie? I doubt. But was this an important work? I think so. It would challenge modern thinking about the Nigerian cinema. It would evoke discussions around the role of intellectually driven movies as a veritable vehicle for creative expression. It would redefine the essence of our story telling, taking us away from the mostly light hearted trash we call Nollywood movies and herald a new consciousness in artistic portrayal.
As I walked towards my car, I continued to ask myself what I had just watched. Was I part of history or was that a moment that would glide into obscurity with the possible rejection it could face from a mass market of uneducated movie goers? Now in my room and as my head slowly glides towards my soft pillow, the picturesque and exotically attractive image of Nse in that colourful bikini came back to my mind and with a smile I say a silent prayer to my silent queen as I lay down to sleep.
God bless you Ego. This could be a silent revolution. Fingers crossed.
Review: Joseph Edgar