Eyimofe ‘This Is My Desire’ (2020) BFI LFF Review
Directors: Arie & Chuko Esiri
Screenwriters: Chuko Esiri
Starring: Jude Akuwudike, Temi-Ami Williams, Emmanuel Adeji, Mary Agholor, Kemi Lala Akindoju
Eyimofe (This Is My Desire) arrives timely for its UK premiere, readying to hit British screens for the first time during the UK’s observation of Black History Month. Throughout October, not only is it crucial to reflect on the achievements and accomplishments of the black trailblazers of history, but it is also essential to concentrate on the emerging promise and triumphs of the black community in the here and now. Two such up and coming talents are twin brothers, Arie and Chuko Esiri, co-directors of Eyimofe, a Nigerian street-level look at two subjects who are living in the heart of West Africa’s most populous city, Lagos.
Via two delicately interwoven narratives, the Esiri Brothers focus a loving eye on the rampant eco-system of their beloved Lagos. Their story focuses on Mofe (Jude Akuwudike), an electrical engineer, and Rosa (Temi-Ami Williams), a young hairdresser, who appear to have little in common aside from their shared residence in Nigeria’s largest city and their mutual desire to leave their tumultuous lives behind for the promise they believe they will find in Europe.
The action takes place in two divided chapters named ‘Spain’ and ‘Italy’, the destinations our two respective protagonists hope to travel to. The first half of the film follows Mofe, whose life begins to mirror that of the biblical figure, Job, who finds himself stripped of everything he holds dear in a test of faith from God. Lagos, which serves as the third protagonist of the story, follows Mofe with its hand outstretched. Hospital bills, funeral costs, and lawyer fees, on top of the money he must raise to pay for his move to Spain, plague Mofe, pushing him to a breaking point that will see the threads of his life begin to untangle. Then, just as we are starting to relax into Mofe’s story, a new chapter begins. The second half of the story, titled ‘Italy’, picks up with Rosa and her pregnant sister, who are making a morally questionable deal to gain travel visas. Rosa, like Mofe, is plagued by costs she could do without, similarly never getting a moment to rest while working two jobs and continually having to step up for the hardships life presents her and her sister, which she does without hesitation or doubt.
Despite Mofe and Rosa only briefly appearing in each other’s stories, with these two characters it seems the Esiri Brothers are commenting on the unseen entanglement human lives often have with one another. As individuals, Rosa and Mofe believe that their troubles are singular, yet, with the all-seeing eye the Esiri Brothers grant us, we see the universality to life in Lagos and the shared desires of its inhabitants. Each chapter documents the obstacles of life: money troubles, death, longing, unemployment and love, to name just a few. What is most interesting about the film is to observe how each protagonist tackles the hardships life presents them. Mofe, a natural fixer, both in and out of his workplace, tackles his troubles with his hands, whereas Rosa looks for help and dependency in her relationships with men. Each strategy has its pros and cons, yet, it is through these highs and lows, successes and sacrifices, that the duel protagonists uncover their true desires. As we move through each interconnecting narrative, we see each character strive towards their goals, taking the hits and making the tough decisions that will lead to an equilibrium between what they want and what they think they want.
Funded in Nigeria with a predominantly Nigerian cast and crew, and filmed on 16mm across forty-eight locations in Lagos, the film emanates a lovingly textured portrait of the constant buzz and vibrancy of a city we have rarely seen captured so richly on screen. A never-ending flurry of passers-by work as real-life extras. The presence of these everyday people, who are out, living their lives, playing, shopping and working – unaware of the camera and uninterested in the characters whose lives they are briefly appearing in – give the story a realist, lived-in quality. These unknowing extras are Lagos; the real Lagos. It’s as if, for the city, it’s not enough to be portrayed through the fictional experiences of Mofe and Rosa. So, it pushes to the forefront, stealing almost every scene with its cacophony of colours, commuters, children and activity. ‘Look at me’ the city screams to the lenses of The Esiri Brothers’ cameras, ironically getting in the way of their film; a film which observes how Lagos gets in the way of the lives of its inhabitants. The Esiri Brothers capture Lagos with a similar affinity for chaos as The Safdie Brothers: who are known for turning their cameras on everyday New Yorkers in order to capture the inexorable motion of New York City’s relentless streets.
The Nigerian film industry, otherwise known as ‘Nollywood’, rivals Hollywood and Bollywood with its output of film releases per year. The films are most recognisable for their home video production quality, low budgets and focus on comedy and drama. It’s an industry which is thriving and expanding with every project; however, the acclaim attributed to most movies typically made in Nigeria rarely manages to cross borders and be recognised in the West. Eyimofe feels different. While the film engages with the influence of Nigerian cinema, it also embraces the structure of independent filmmaking, which will hold the attention of international arthouse cinemagoers.
With an ambling, almost two-hour runtime, the Esiris might have benefited from cutting the fat from specific sequences and focusing on a tighter, more finely tuned narrative. The film certainly takes its time, setting a leisurely pace and making space to focus on scenes of no significant consequence, which serve to reflect the banality of every day; be it an Instagram photoshoot or images of tired hands tinkering at broken pieces of machinery. While the sluggish pace can often feel frustrating, there is undoubtedly artistry to the composition of these meandering scenes, and perhaps they speak to the excitement of two brothers eager to showcase their filmmaking talents. In essence, this narrative feature debut feels like watching two up and comers attempt to finely tune their craft, and experiment with what works for them and will become recognisable tools for them as filmmakers.
There is great promise in Arie and Chuko Esiri; Eyimofe feels like the first triumph in what is sure to be a magnificent career in the industry.