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Halfway through this film, I recalled a line from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s award-winning novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, which reads as follows: “Grief was the celebration of love…those who could feel real grief were lucky to have loved.” The statement is spoken to Olanna who is torn between “moments of solid hope” and “stretches of raw pain”, waiting in vain for her sister, Kainene, to come back home.
Olanna dismisses it as an oversimplification and nothing but a platitude, calling it “nice sounding and facile,” because what she felt anyway was greater and stranger than grief. Her reaction is understandable. Virtually all of us have felt the unmistakable twinge of grief deep in our hearts whenever we so much as remember the face of the person we lost. Even if it has been ages since the incident, the numbing feeling washes over us anew. In that state, hearing someone say to us that we are “lucky to have loved” might sound like a derision of our agony, even if there is some truth to it.
Across various eras, one thing artists and intellectuals have agreed on is that love and grief are but two sides of the same coin. Grief is nothing but love carrying on after death, raging against the existential impasse that is mortality, a candle burning gently in an immense darkness. But how can you love someone who is no longer there? How can you carry on loving someone who will never be there again? Matthew Adeboye’s latest film does not attempt to answer this question, but instead, in spite of the myriad of stories already centered around this idea, finds a different way to ask it.
Endless is an 11-minute short film set in a single location: the top of a hill overlooking the neighbourhood, about as romantic a spot as you can get. It follows two lovers played by Femi Olawale and Maureen Vincent who have gone there to spend some quality time together. The film wastes no time in delving into its theme. It opens with a monologue of the man reciting in Yoruba the first verse of 1 Corinthians 13. Taking his lover’s hand in his, he continues: “Love is endless. That is why it’s bounded by a ring.” The circular shape of wedding rings is an expression of the hope that the love shared will never end.
About two minutes into the runtime, the lady gets a notification on her phone and breaks their embrace to check it out. The man feels slighted. He mentions this to his lover and her reply is that they’ll still get to spend much time together in the future. But this is all very well since the man dies halfway through their meeting. Before this happens though, he breaks the fourth wall by staring directly into the camera and telling the audience that time “is like a breeze that passes you by…you do not know where it’s coming from or where it’s going.” The film’s message here is clear. We are to cherish the time we spend with our loved ones because no one knows when it will all come to an end.
Where Endless really shines is in its use of contrast. The first shot is of the couple walking up the hill, holding hands, without a care in the world, while the final one is of the lady descending the same hill, alone this time, the picture of dejectedness. The scene where both of them whisper sweet nothings to each other is juxtaposed with one where the lady is in mourning, angry at life for taking her lover so soon; angry at her lover for leaving without saying goodbye; angry that she is cursed with the memories of their time together.
This contrast is also evident in the colour grading as well as the music choices; both elements switch from bright and colorful in the moments where they’re together to somber and washed out in the one after he is gone.
There are a few things that prevent the story from being as good as it could have been. The performances, while serviceable, are caught between being too much and somehow, too little. Like the film, it feels like we’re getting a lot of information about the characters from the way the actors perform their lines, but at the same time, not nearly enough.
The first place this is evident is in the decision to let the characters remain nameless. In doing this, the writer, director, and co-producer, Matthew Adeboye, is stripping away any superfluous elements to focus solely on the situation: how does a lady cope when her lover, whom she failed to always cherish when he was alive, is gone? On some level, this works. In real life, it is not so natural that we would repeat a person’s name when we are talking to them, especially not if we’re already considerably close. Therefore, the film is merely portraying a perfectly ordinary situation. However, in its attempts towards a minimalist style, (or probably even something transcendental), it doesn’t always hit the mark. Still, it should be commended for trying.
Endless is less interested in plot and more in mood. The various poetic lines spoken by the characters are meant to invoke the feeling of an essay film, the likes of As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Glimpses of Beauty (2000) by Jonas Mekas, The Gleaners and I (2001) by Agnes Varda and News From Home (1977) by Chantal Akerman. And it achieves that to an extent. But the situation it presents is not enough to create a corresponding emotional reaction in the audience. The heart and vision behind it however, are evident and one hopes that Adeboye only goes higher from here.
Grief and love are two of the most intense situations we can ever experience. The lady, caught in the throes of loss, in a symbolic act, removes her ring and leaves it at the top of the hill. This is because if both grief and love are truly connected, truly both sides of the same coin, then keeping the ring would mean holding on to the endless love, which, since her lover is no longer alive, will only manifest as endless grief.
And like Chimamanda proves through Olanna, more often than not, such depths of misery can be too much for any one person too handle.