▶︎ Eyimofe (This Is My Desire) screened in the 2020 BFI London Film Festival.
The stunning feature debut from the Esiri twin brothers, Arie and Chuko, opens on a chaos of red, yellow, green and black electric cables, echoing the currents of desire which animate the film. Eyimofe (This Is My Desire) is a tale of restless mobility and broken dreams of migration across Lagos, told from the perspective of Mofe (Jude Akuwudike) and Rosa (Temi Ami-Williams). Passports function throughout as sacred objects to be touched, caressed, circulated, displayed, constantly asked about and gazed at silently, religiously – the green tones of the Nigerian passport haunting Arseni Khachaturan’s cinematography.
While these documents individualise, the movie exposes the intricate web of entanglements Mofe and Rosa find themselves in, making migration as an individual journey difficult, even impossible. (Mofe dreams of Spain, in the film’s first part; Rosa of Italy, in the second.) Mofe takes care of his siblings in lieu of his stingy father. Rosa looks after her pregnant sister Grace (Cynthia Ebijie), sent to live with her from the village. Both characters are engulfed in the kafkaesque nature of Nigerian bureaucracy and the constant need for copious naira banknotes to kickstart the machine.
Despite the attempt to establish a symmetry between Mofe and Rosa, her part feels a bit less textured and intimate than Mofe’s. Rosa is a hairdresser by day and waitress by night. While we get a sense of the craft at play in Mofe’s profession, with long takes following the intricate pathways of the electric circuits and close ups of his hands at work, hairdressing does not get the same focus. Instead this kind of minute attention is shifted onto Rosa’s relationships and the material gains she makes from them, as well as the all too familiar scripts of juju oaths and her future prospects, whether marriage in Lagos or the implication of prostitution in Italy.
Shooting on 16mm film, the Esiri brothers and DP Khachaturan powerfully redefine visual representations of Lagos, giving it a timeless feel, similar to Edward Yang’s immortalisation of another megapolis in Taipei Story (1985). In contrast to the proliferation of distanced, drone-like and high angle perspectives of the city, they give us a sense of proximity and intimacy, capturing something of Lagos’s indomitable spirit and quotidian hopes, beyond typical images of yellow danfos (informal private transport vans). In the rare moments shot at a high angle – from a building, for instance – there is still a sense of groundedness as the camera, far from a depersonalised gaze, follows Mofe or Rosa, walking in the vibrant and coloured environment of Oshodi Market or the streets of Mushin.
We get a sense of the hustle and bustle Lagos is known for through the relentless labour of the protagonists, night and day. This temporal duality is visually expressed through the work of costume designer Daniel Obasi. He selects a rich red velvet uniform for Mofe’s diurnal electrician uniform and a more terse, black fabric for his night-time security job. The hustle takes on at times sisyphal qualities, as the film touches on the sad reality of carbon monoxide poisoning from generator fumes, which regularly affect a significant number of people in Lagos. As we leave Mofe and Rosa on a bittersweet ending, highlife musician Ifeanyi Eddie Okwedy’s tune Happy Survival lingers with us.
As the first film supported by new Lagos-based production company, GDN Studios, Eyimofe is part of a promising new wave of Nigerian cinema which seeks to break away from the shadow of Nollywood. It is bold, unafraid of proposing new cinematic languages while engaging complex social issues.