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by Adebayo Adegbite
Mildred Okwo’s La Femme Anjola is a psychological thriller film noir about Dejare (Nonso Bassey), a young stockbroker and saxophonist, whose life is turned upside down when he falls in love with mysterious femme fatale Anjola Kalu (Rita Dominic), a singer married to a wealthy gangster. When the subsequent illicit affair leads him into a web of love, lust, betrayal, and murder, Dejare finds himself fighting for not just his sanity and his freedom, but also for his life. The film also stars the likes of Femi Jacobs, Browny Igboegwu, Mumbi Maina (Kenya), Shawn Faqua, Chris Iheuwa among others.
There are plenty of things to love about La Femme Anjola, the plot’s pacing being one of them. Not too fast that it confuses the nuances of the plot or too slow that it becomes unnecessarily drawn out and boring. To be honest, I feared the worst about execution. I worried it was going to tow the path of Simi Opeoluwa’s 2018 film “Swim” but the plot twists at the end had other ideas. A lot has been said about the ending. Praises and complaints in equal measures. Some even going as far as suggesting the final act ruins whatever goodwill the film had managed to accrue from Fade in. But I think the ending is just about right. The femme fatale getting away with her machinations, the hapless lover boy in prison or dead, figments of the classic film noir resolutions. Not token attempts to fit into the genre but a consistent referencing from start to finish. See Billy Wilder’s groundbreaking Double Indemnity to get the full picture.
La Femme Anjola proves once again that a film doesn’t have to have distracting side-plots intended to accommodate popular faces to make sense; that a movie with a distinct overarching plot point can be exciting. Foreshadowing is employed at will by Director Mildred Okwo and Writer Tunde Babalola: Dejare’s MBA certificate from the University of Cape town that Anjola briefly glances at early on in the movie would later prove important much later, Odera summoning Dejare to his office and asking him “are you the one banging my wife?”, which is brilliant, considering what happens later, are two of the many examples of brilliant use of that technique. All pointing to some degree of deliberateness to the plotting. There are no attempts to resolve things with contrivances as a lot of films are wont to do.
The characterization and casting fit like gloves to aid the performance. The movie brings together a mixed cast of Nollywood veterans and new young actors, blending them together to deliver a vivid, suspenseful thriller. Rita Dominic puts her soul into the character of Anjola and delivers a near-perfect performance, so much that the viewer is likely to struggle separating fiction from reality. Here, she’s real as real can be, drawing the viewer, spellbound, deeper into her web alongside her victims. Rita Dominic has aged like fine wine, and has grown into her role as a middle-aged seductress. Even as a young actress in old Nollywood, Dominic’s looks have always retained that mysterious, unsettling gothic vibes that her fellow leading ladies had to dig deep to evoke. Those innate vibes, better channeled with expert direction and maturity, enable her to execute this role to perfection, intriguing both co-star and viewer alike.
Dominic is not the only one deserving of accolades for her performance. The plain-faced Nonso Bassey also bodies the Dejare character and delivers a performance that should cement him as a leading man in an industry desperate for more. He gets top marks for his portrayal of the wonderment, mixed with shock, and fear that a naïve, abroad-educated, “Ajebota” boy who becomes the victim of a wily woman and is as a result plunged into Lagos’s underbelly of crime and murder would feel. The Dejare character actually undergoes development going from naïve, wide-eyed ajebutter boy at the beginning to a wiser, more streetwise man at the end. These two, Dominic and Bassey, spearhead a lineup of actors (and characters) who deliver within their specific supporting arcs.
The cinematography stays true to the genre. There are no flamboyant lighting or distracting camera movements. The lighting is stark, chiaroscuro effects are employed to create the illusion of volume and the depth of field in the photography ensures everything we need to see is kept in perspective. Every transitioning image is coloured with a foreboding sense of danger and the unpredictable.
However, I should also highlight the iffy moments. For all the praises about plotting, certain aspects felt rushed, giving room to avoidable oversights. A casual observer might mistake Odera for Austin, thereby ensuring that Anjola and Odera’s plan works, but there is no way Dejare, a stockbroker whose job is to see details, would not be able to differentiate between a man that he has interacted with weekly for months and a boss he doesn’t particularly know, so much that he falls for the ruse. Also, if the police in the Nigeria of the movie are capable of identifying people based on their finger prints, it means they are advanced enough to do DNA testing as well, rendering Anjola’s attempt to make Austin’s corpse unrecognizable moot. I also feel that the sequence of events that finally led to Dejare breaking and deciding to be an accessory to murder are a tad too convenient, perhaps the all too familiar flaw of employing the first resolutory idea that comes to mind instead of just taking the time to think it through.
That said, “La Femme Anjola” is a good movie, one that we should all see. We do need more of this in our cinemas.
Watch the trailer here.
Adebayo Adegbite is a Nigeria based copywriter and editor. His writing interests are in creative non-fiction writing, as well as film, music and book reviews and criticism. His thoughts can be seen on his blog www.adebayoadegbite.wordpress.com and on his twitter @beebayuu