Movie director Eric Aghimien ups the ante with his sophomore effort Slow Country and thereby proves he is the undisputed king of the crime genre in Nollywood, Toni Kan argues
In literature, Shakespeare’s Iago in the play Othello is often regarded as the quintessential evil character, who is evil for evil sake, a real spawn of the devil.
Watch Eric Aghimien’s sophomore effort, a crime caper, starring a few faces from his debut, A Mile from Home, and you may just add Tuvi to the list.
Tuvi is evil, that whom we may call in Nigeria parlance the bad guy par excellence. He tells his father that “life is full of open and shut gates. You are a shut gate”, then proceeds to commit patricide.
In an opening scene that evokes Good Fellas and The God Father, Tuvi murders his childhood friend in cold blood and right after giving him a familial hug and pat on the back. Tuvi is that evil genius who says “Well done” before stabbing you in the back, literally.
But the fictional character that Tuvi approximates most is Omar from the TV series, The Wire and it is these constant references by Eric Aghimien, the peek-a-boo and hey, haven’t-I -seen-it-before moments that make Slow Country such a beautiful, familiar movie.
Once you see Sambasa Nzeribe and Tope Tedela, anyone who saw A Mile from Home will have a déjà vu moment.
Slow Country is full of movie tropes and clichés but they neither wear thin nor grate because Eric Aghimien has found a peculiar means of appropriating them and making them his.
They say that to become a good writer, you must read a lot of books. I think also that to become a good director, you must see a lot of movies. Quentin Tarantino recalls that he cut class to see horrible B movies all of which now form part of his shtick; the brilliant elevation of cheap movies which would in the hands of someone less deserving unravel into farce or melodrama or both.
Eric Aghimien’s Slow Country is a love story told in blood. Tuvi meets a young single mother and makes her an offer which she doesn’t take but when her child falls sick, Kove (Ivie Okujaye-Egboh) is forced to do Tuvi’s bidding and so begins her enslavement. The master-servant binary and her apparent powerlessness comes to the fore in three key instances. First, when she says to Tuvi – “You say you love me but you prostitute me and use me to traffic drugs.”
Second, when Tuvi says to her – “See that’s Seyi Bucknor, telecom big boy. He is your man for tonight. I need his money.”
But, finally, it comes out from Tuvi close to the end when he says “There are three things you can never do without in this world; love, trust and help. That is why I can never let you go. I will give you one more chance to return to your chain.”
As a philosopher once noted, there is no given freedom, every slave must work out his freedom with fear and trembling. That is the fate that awaits Kove and her love, Peter, who are caught like surprised deers in the glare of Tuvi’s bright lights.
Eric Aghimien is a superb storyteller with an eye for detail and a good ear for nuance. That which is not said is as important as that which is proclaimed. His characterisation is spot on and there are no contrivances not even when he proselytises. His anti-tobacco campaign is prosecuted as a joke and with laughs coming fast and strong. Majid Michel’s character is a chain-smoker who says he does not believe in cancer because “he believes in Jesus.”
The same even-handed approach to weighty matters is apparent in his treatment of prostitution and human trafficking.
Tuvi is a type; a man who has struck his fist against his chest only to discover that his heart has, like Othello the Moor, turned to stone.
Ola is a whore. Poor, ill-educated, she is happy to have a pimp and ready to sell her body. When she is hard done by a nasty customer she is more perplexed than bitter and instead of seeking vengeance all she does is ask – “What is wrong with you people?” Her right and wrong antennae are poorly developed.
Kove is an educated woman pushed to the rough side of the tracks but she must use her education and street smarts as well as feminine wiles to outwit her pimp, lover and slave master.
Brasco is another character, imported in many ways from the Samuel L Jackson movie with two names – The 51st state or Formula 51. He is funny and yet dangerous.
But it is in the character of Femi played by the handsome Femi Agunbiade that Eric shows his understanding of motive, action and characterisation. Femi is the youngest of Tuvi’s gang. If Tuvi was gay, Femi could have passed for his love interest (See another parallel to Omar in the Wire). Femi is also the most squeamish. He shows disgust in the opening scene when Tuvi’s childhood friend is shot; practically saves Peter’s life at the club when he pushes him back and says – “Go, you wan die.”
One is left wondering why a criminal with a heart is cavorting with Tuvi but we find out later at the end that his actions were like establishment shots foreshadowing what was to come.
Peter is the proverbial anti-hero who ends up getting the girl. He is the coward who stands and points at the ruins of a great man’s house.
A Mile from Home announced Eric Aghimien’s entrée as a director to watch. With Slow Country he has shown that he is not a one trick pony while announcing without equivocation that he is king of the crime genre in Nollywood. Eric’s A Mile from Home and Slow Country are master classes. They have all elements of a classic crime thriller and they don’t fail to thrill.
His use of what appears to be video co-pilot for his visual effect has improved notches higher from “A Mile from Home” and it is baffling that other directors are not engaging him to help provide the same realistic special effects features for their own movies.
There are, however, a few contrived scenes that that do not pass the test of credulity and cinematic verisimilitude. In what part of Lagos (Nigeria even) will a child hear a knock on the door then open the door just like that? That was as, Huckleberry Finn would say, is a stretcher.
To close, one must quickly suggest that Sambasa Nzeribe find a different role to play, one that will not see him cast typically as the villain even though he wears the garb of villainy with aplomb and it is from his finger that drips the blood in which this riveting story of life and love, violence and ambition, fear and action is written.
-Toni Kan writes from Lagos