The Arbitration Blurs Truth

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Vanessa Obioha

If you are not in the legal field or familiar with its terminology, you may want to look up ‘The Arbitration’ in Google or your dictionary before watching the movie.

It is unlikely that your findings will prepare you for the mentally and emotional rollercoaster Niyi Akinmolayan infused in the legal drama. The Arbitration is not your everyday court case kind of drama, or is it woven to put truth in good light. Of course, truth prevails but in this peculiar case comes in different shades, depending on who is telling it.

On the surface, the Arbitration is just what it is – a process of resolving issues between two or more warring parties through an arbiter. Unlike a courtroom case where the formalities of a legal case are well executed, in an arbitration, it is just between the arbiter, his secretary, the disputing parties and their legal representatives.

However, the plot is layered with themes that explore our day-to-day activities and realities. From the intricacies of a work-place affair gone bad to a battle of truth embedded in thick layers of betrayal and greed.

Being his first attempt at legal drama production, Niyi needed more than a dictionary’s definition to bring to life the story written by Chinaza Onuzo.

Produced by Inkblot Productions, the outcome is a well-delivered narrative told with accurate precision. From the use of flashbacks, blurred background images for effect (and perhaps for censorship) to choice of cast. All these elements were beautifully combined and made the movie unpredictably perfect.

Starring AMVCA stars OC Ukeje and Adesua Etomi, the film has all the tell-tale signs of a complicated workplace affair. Etomi is the young intelligent mistress of Ukeje, a CEO of a technological firm worth millions of naira Iwaju Limited.
Told in flashbacks, the film began with blurred images of two bodies locked in an erotic embrace on a couch, then to a hotel lobby where we get the first taste of sarcasm from Iretiola Doyle who played the legal representative of Ukeje, Funlayo Johnson.

A clearer picture of the lead actors are shown next. A nervous and worried Dara Olujobi (Etomi) whose inexperienced lawyer, Omawunmi (Somkele Iyamah) is trying to calm, while a cocky Gbenga Sanni (Ukeje) walks around the lobby with his phone glued to his ear in a business-like manner.

The drama continues in the Arbiter’s room where the Arbiter played by Sola Fosudo had to wait patiently for Gbenga to get off the phone before he introduced himself, the paralegal, Faridah (Lota Chukwu) who doubles as a secretary and only spoke twice in the nearly two hours film, and the modalities of the process. The case is then introduced. Dara accused Gbenga of raping her and not remitting her 30 per cent share of the company which she helped him built.

It was only a matter of time before the two lawyers began to spark and spar. Doyle dons her sassiness elegantly with a domineering leer. She does her best to tear apart Dara’s claim that Gbenga raped her. But her unfortunate victim Somkele is not easily cowered.

Hiding her steelness behind transparent lens, Somkele exuded her naivety in loud silence, facial expressions and sometimes ignorant remarks, which were very adoring as they were misleading. With a measured calm demeanour, her veneer of naivety began to slip to reveal a determined and competitive lawyer. Even Doyle was in more than one occasion thrown off balance by her shrewdness.
The Nollywood star admits that her addiction to the American legal drama ‘Suits’ enabled her to view the role in different goggles.
The story began to unfold as the two lawyers try to prove the veracity of their client’s side of the story.

Etomi on her part portrayed her character with beautiful deception. She inspires your sympathy then almost immediately, consternation at her demanding expectations of fidelity from her lover. On Ukeje’s part, there was no extra mile to be taken to deliver his character. From being a caring lover to a greedy businessman, he lights up the screen with his camouflages.

Credence must be given to Akinmolayan for the brilliant transition of the storyline. It is not chronological in any form. There seems to be a surprise at every turn. This form of engagement makes the viewer to appreciate his work more. He is in your head but you can barely peep what is going on in his head. He deliberately gives you an opportunity to see a flaw in his direction, only to claim his masterstroke later in the movie with more flashbacks.

His ingenuity is seen in the use of sounds. There are more doors slamming than gavel banging in the movie. Each time an intimate scene comes on, the viewer is censored by a door slamming. There is also the keyboard taps to indicate the nature of the business involved.
Other cast members Gregory Ojefua and Beverley Naya were later revealed in the movie. Ojefua brought his comedic quirkiness as an ambitious nerd in love with Dara, while Naya who played Gbenga’s wife threw stereotypes out of the window.

She is no teary-eyed housewife who blames her husband’s infidelity on her weight or childlessness. Rather we have a conniving wife who shuttles between London and Lagos, and more interested in her husband’s wealth than who he sleeps with. Of course, her possessive nature is subtly played when she first suspected the chemistry between her husband (who by the way gained the status out of fear of her military father and unplanned pregnancy) and his partner at a private dinner.
Although her suspicions were wrong, she however came prepared. Luring the naïve Dara to the ladies, she asked her thugs to give her the beating of her life. When her husband lost the case, we see a Naya who is willing to make peace with her husband’s mistress.

One of the film’s weaknesses is the choice of veteran Nollywood actor Sola Fosudo as the arbiter. Apart from his suit and tie, he lacks the charisma to portray the character well. However, he was an excellent choice for Akinmolayan who has been craving for an opportunity to work with him.
The Arbitration brings to mind many real-life events. It mirrors the emotional pain mistresses subject themselves to. It leaves you with provocative questions. For instance, you ponder on what constitutes rape, if love is ever enough, but more importantly what truth really is. The compelling manner it is told will make you want to drag a friend along to the cinema.