Pieces on Film, Prose and Music by a Nigerian

Tag: european film festival 2012


An Epic love story for Adults

Now that’s how you end a film festival!

Give the audience something to applaud. A sense of witnessing something momentous, an idea of being part of an epic journey, characters to root for: Give them the dandy Chico; give them the beautiful and feisty Rita. Give the audience the sensuous, quasi-erotic animated feature, Chico and Rita. The final film at the European Film Festival, Spain’s Chico and Rita is a love story set in Cuba and America. The film follows the on and off relationship of a couple— the eponymous characters. Their love story is told from 1948 through to present day. Chico, a pianist, meets the beautiful singer, Rita; through the help of his friend, Ramon, he convinces her to enter for a music competition with him which they win. A romance blossoms, but between a rich businessman, Ron who intends to make Rita a solo star and Chico’s cantankerous ex-girlfriend, Juanita they are separated as Rita is taken away to America, while Chico stays back in Cuba, depressed. He finds a way to America and an unlikely second phase of the romance begins, and abruptly ends when he is deported. But Cuba has changed. The little matter of Fidel Castro’s 1959 revolution places an embargo on the public performance of jazz— branded as imperialistic. So an older Chico abandons music and spends his days shoe shining, which is the point at which we meet him, as the film proceeds to tell his story in flashbacks. Nominated at the 84th Academy Awards in the Best Animation category, the most arresting quality of Chico and Rita is its unselfconsciousness— an attribute it shares with eventual winner, Gore Verbinski’s Rango. The film handles its unconventional traits with confidence: animated feature length pictures, (probably due to its historical affiliation with children,) do not show material that can be interpreted as erotic but Chico and Rita not only shows the breasts, nipples­ and the pubic hair of a woman during and after sex, but handles it like these are just another detail on a prop.  The manner of the animation is similar to those drawings you find on Calypso drinks evoking the Caribbean, which is at first disconcerting to the eye used to conventional animation but it soon settles, giving the love story at its center attention. The music propels and is a side story- the history of jazz music, its growth, its Cuban music influences and its restriction by politics is a subplot and a beautiful soundtrack that can stand on its own. Jazz enthusiasts will find it a great pleasure. Political history also runs through it: racism in America and Hollywood— Rita is bristled when a woman mentions the risk in featuring a black Latino as lead in a Hollywood feature, her career comes to an end when she speaks about racism in public; Chico is easily deported on drug charges; Chico’s benefactor is shot in an American bar when a drug transaction goes awry. But all of these are glossed over, Chico and Rita is a love story first and most importantly. Chico and Rita recalls that other famous fictional romance— that between Ricky and Ilsa in 1942’s Casablanca and the song Rita/Lily is as pivotal to the former film as As Time Goes By was to the latter; and often the character Ramon has lines that suggest he is a stand-in for Rick’s friend, the pianist Sam. That is perhaps a coincidence and not a drawback. If there is any detraction, it will have to be that the concluding half of the film does live up to the earlier, heady moments of the film. And while, Chico and Rita was definitely not the best of the screened films at this year’s festival, it did have sufficient charm to induce applause at the last kiss, suggesting that as far as cinematic crowd-pleasers go, it sufficed.

PS: This entry concludes the ping’s review cum coverage of the fifth edition of the European Film Festival, held in Abuja from May 10th to 23rd. 
As previously stated, some of the reviews have been carried in the Guardian and Thisday newspapers.




The second and final Serbian film at the European Film Festival, Montevideo: I Love You, chronicles the formation of the Serbian team sent to the 1930 World Cup.

Told from the point of view of a young disabled shoe shiner, the film’s central relationship is that between the the poor Tirnanic and the already famous Mosha. After some initial squabbles, they become friends when they both are selected to play for the national team. It is a friendship that is troubled by two women: new arrival Rosa and the enchantress Valeria. Nevertheless, the country is the lead character in this highly patriotic tale.

The actors are admirable football players, one can easily see the Hollywood version of this film featuring body doubles and computer generated images for the on-field scenes. Thankfully, we are spared brutish visual effects and given an often grey but beautiful picture in which the period details appear accurate.

There is just the little problem of the manner of recollections: how is it possible that the kid narrator will be privy to the bedroom encounters of the central characters?

Agreed, it is a technical problem that will not matter a jot when a lump of patriotism is caught in your like I assume will be the case of Serbians. Nigerians will enjoy the football, football politics and amusing dialogue. The patriotism? Not so much.

The film ends before the actual tournament, which might be a torment for some. But there is hope in sight: a sequel is in the works.



The song, We shall overcome in Nigeria indicates a cry for solidarity during protests against the establishment. In Drommen (We Shall Overcome), the second and final Denmark film at the European Film Festival, the establishment is a headmaster, Lindum-Svendsen, whose disciplinary methods borders on the sadistic, but who will probably fit right into the Nigerian system of corporal punishment. The year is 1969 and a law against such punishment is already in place but change is slow in coming. A student, Frits, lured to spy on the female bathroom is apprehended by Lindum-Svendsen and his ear twisted so hard he requires stitches. Buoyed by the speeches of Martin Luther King Jnr, Frits, and his parents decide to challenge the establishment as symbolized by the headmaster.

Frits (Janus Dissing Rathke), is a brooding type and appears to be too introspective for his age. A friend asks him, “Why are you so weird?” He becomes friendly with a young hippie quasi-teacher, who plans to rid the system of the old as represented by Lindum-Svendsen but also relies on the man’s approval to become a full teacher as he says: “If I don’t pass, I can’t change anything”

There is also the small matter of Frits’ father’s psychiatric history and his mother is the school nurse.

These details make Drommen is a heartwarming tale with elements of a coming-of-age story and an underdog tale. So it is an achievement that the film does not get stuck in the sentimentality that characterizes this particular subgenre. The only detail may be the simplistic view of Lindum-Svendsen as a caricature without redeeming qualities.

It is bound to make Nigerian teachers cringe. But students will jump for joy.


Good intentions, questionable execution


The opening scene of Cento Chiodi (One Hundred Nails) is strongly reminiscent of The Da Vinci Code. A library caretaker’s screams are heard as he calls the police. Inside the library, precious manuscripts have been nailed to the floor using nails not unlike those used for the Crucifixion. Investigations point to a young professor; who flees, fakes a suicide and comes to reside among the rural dwellers living by the River Po. His grouse appears to be mankind has neglected human relationships for the knowledge that comes from books, as he says: “There is more truth in a single caress than in the pages of all these books.”

That first scene is merely a clever decoy for a film that is unabashedly religious: this professor is said to look like Jesus— a  villager asks, “Who took Christ off the cross?”; he recites Biblical passages to the villagers and is eventually looked upon as a saviour when the government, in Fashola style, decides to bulldoze illegal structures.

Almost painfully slow, One Hundred Nails requires the frankly majestic cinematography to keep the audience interested and the script is obviously a little more than a vehicle to drive director Ermanno Olmi’s ideas. Several minutes pass without any action, without dialogue and sometimes even without a character onscreen. Consequently, the film drags but is rescued by the compelling presence of Raz Degan who plays the professor cum Christ-like figure. The rural dwellers are very competently played too and the relationship that develops between the bakery girl and the professor, though apparently platonic (in keeping with the Christian symbolism) is based on genuine chemistry.

The brief arguments are compelling but the overall message is fuzzy. Is Olmi saying Christ will vandalise books to prove a point? Somehow, I do not think so.

If this were a Nigerian film, despite the good intentions, it will not be unimaginable that this will have ‘Blasphemy’ as a label.




Did you hear of the farmer who wanted a wife, put an ad in the paper specifically saying she must have a tractor, and requested interested women to send a photo of the tractor?

In Je vous trouve tres Beau, the second and final French film screened at the European Film Festival, Ayme, a farmer and a new widower upon advice from his lawyer decides to find a wife, his reasons are more practical than romantic: “I can deal with the grief, but the work!” Ayme complains. He contacts a dating agent who suggests he tries Romania where he meets several young women who have been trained to say the phrase, “You’re so handsome” (in French, the “Je vous trouve tres beau” of the title) to his irritation. He is not pleased— the women seem to have more plans and talent for disco dancing than for farm work— but neither are the girls; as one says “He wants you in field more than in bed—bad news!” His luck turns when, he meets the beautiful Elena, who in a quest to leave Romania, is equally as practical and has no qualms feigning love for all things pastoral and stops short of praising his handsomeness. In short, it is a match made in agrarian heaven. Or is it?

The Romanian date scene is hilarious and in the vast difference between what the man needs and what is yakking obliviously in front of him, the scene is almost as ridiculously funny as Hakeem’s interview for a bride in a New York club in Coming to America.

The laughs are very consistent except for when the script halts to give some drama and some romance. The French are very very good at the latter, but not so much the former on this evidence. The comedy owes as much to funny one liners— on arriving France, Elena has to play dumb as she is not supposed to speak French, a relative tells Ayme, “The perfect girl- young, pretty and doesn’t talk”— as much as it does to the acting of Michel Blanc, whose portrayal of the grumpy old man provokes both hilarity and sympathy at his inability to handle Elena, driven to the point of exasperation, he says, “I try to make you laugh, you cry”. It is on his shoulders, Je vous trouve tres beau is carried.

There might be a problem regarding the chemistry between the young, beautiful Elena and the old, balding Ayme— it is almost impossible to see how such a woman will fall for Ayme to the point of desperately luring him to bed; but that is explained when a character says, “…that’s why guys go there, the girls will marry anyone to escape…”Ahem. Not a very nice sentiment about fellow EU members, no? Anyway, Nigerians won’t complain too much as we are used to the strange case of pretty women marrying Amaechi Muonagor— whom Stella Dimoko of Encomium once described as, “Nigeria’s unsexiest actor” —in Nollywood.

Also, the act that finally wins Elena is farfetched and her back-story is sketchy at best. But it is a comedy, if the jokes are funny, we will laugh and forgive. Je vous trouve tres beau, certainly makes forgiveness tres easy.

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