LFF 2020 film review: Eyimofe (This Is My Desire)
Lagos on film like never before9
Josh Slater-Williams | On 11, Oct 2020
Director: Arie Esiri, Chuko Esiri
Cast: Jude Akuwudike, Temi Ami-Williams, Cynthia Ebijie
Watch Eyimofe online in the UK: London Film Festival
Eyimofe is streaming online as part of the 2020 London Film Festival. For more on how the festival works, click here.
The feature-length debut of directing brothers Arie and Chuko Esiri (the latter also writing the screenplay), Eyimofe – or This Is My Desire – is a Nigerian drama that acts somewhat in opposition to the country’s filmmaking output at large, both in terms of general perception overseas and the standard domestic models. Nigeria is among the world’s most prosperous film industries, putting out roughly a thousand productions a year. That said, many are made on extremely low budgets and shot within maybe a week at most. Few tend to travel outside of Africa through traditional distribution channels, nor do that many seem especially commercially minded, as it were. (For a sense of at least one major Nigerian studio’s offerings, UK viewers with Sky can watch Rok TV, which screens Rok Studios-produced films and television series 24 hours a day.)
All of this is necessary context for why Eyimofe feels so different as a project. In interviews and supplementary production notes both before and after the film’s world premiere at the 2020 Berlinale, the brothers Esiri have cited their wide-reaching influences as including Robert Altman, Edward Yang, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Vittorio De Sica and James Joyce’s Dubliners – filmmakers and authors who notably, though not always, gravitate towards works that examine the larger spaces their characters inhabit, where the city or town itself is truly a character in the text.
Lagos, where Eyimofe is set, hosts around 20 million people, though the narratives around it, certainly in the West, tend to focus on either exoticisation or overwhelmingly belittling stances. Made largely outside of traditional Nigerian filmmaking structures and story templates, Eyimofe does examine various tragedies, but it is more a grounded, realist spotlight on modern Lagos and, by extension, wider Nigeria. Vividly capturing the city on 16mm film, when most Nigerian films are shot digitally, the Esiri brothers definitely achieve something of the Edward Yang touch in how they and cinematographer Arseni Khachaturan capture the city in their framing and evocative use of colours.
The late Taiwanese filmmaker’s spirit can also be found in the patience of Eyimofe’s storytelling. High drama is resisted even when the first tale’s lead, electrical engineer Mofe (Jude Akuwudike), loses his household in an accident and is left to deal with the logistical fallout. Or when the second storyline’s lead, Rosa (Temi Ami-Williams, who gives perhaps the film’s standout performance), a hairdresser and bartender, falls foul of an almost Faustian pact when it comes to getting her pregnant teenage sister Grace (Cynthia Ebijie) away to a new life in Italy after the baby is due to be born and given to a benefactress in Lagos.
Eyimofe is a deliberately less spritely film, but its plotting structure brings to mind another possible influence from major modern Asian cinema: Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express, which, of course, very much made bustling Hong Kong a co-lead. Wong’s film concerns two separate storylines told in sequence, the second story abruptly starting and taking up a higher amount of the film’s overall runtime. Eyimofe, which does reveal the occasional intertwining moments between its two stories, follows that runtime split almost to a tee (but is closer to two full hours), with the exception of a surprise coda and the addition of chapter titles. These are “Spain” and “Italy”, reflecting the European countries the central characters wish to reach but are unable to due to the various entanglements caused by factors like status, wealth, familial obligations, the excessive pressures caused by money transactions and administrative hurdles, and, in some cases, just horrible luck.
Eyimofe is available to stream on BFI Player from 3.50pm on Sunday 11th October until 14th October. Book a ticket here.