Review: Òlòtūré Is Not A Movie For ‘Netflix And Chill’

After reading the synopsis for Òlòtūré, I waited with bated breath for its official release on Netflix. Come October 2nd, I sat straight in my chair and fiddled with my remote as the film unfolded in a series of events as glaring as the neon in Sharon Ooja’s wig.

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Directed by Kenneth Gyang, Òlòtūré tells the story of a young investigative journalist, Ehi (Sharon Ooja), who goes undercover to expose the grotesque world of human trafficking, meeting more than she bargained for. In this dark world, sex workers saunter the streets for money while dreaming and saving for a better life in Europe. The story is told with aching honesty and detached brutality. No airs whatsoever.

Now, let’s talk about all the ways that this thought-provoking film hits (and misses) the mark.

Plot

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First, I must recognize Nollywood’s efforts in flipping the narrative with stories that are different from what we usually see on the screen yet depictions of the harsh realities in our daily existence. Òlòtūré takes us through an unflinching journey of violence and injustice meted out to women, inexcusable regardless of social standing. The plot is vivid and raw, chronicling life in an underbelly where sex is sold and violence is rife. Woven around Ehi (Sharon Ooja), whose naivete is a little too convincing* (Put a pin on this, I’d explain), the storyline is solid. Themes of sex, sexism, nudity, rape, and domestic violence are explored without apology. One word? Heavy.

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No points however for the shoddy attempt at sliding in some “romance” to the story as if we wouldn’t notice. Yes, we recognize Peju the hunk colleague (Blossom Chukwujekwu), and No, we did not need that rushed “I love you” mouthed to Ehi in the heat of things to confirm what we already suspected from the beginning, that he was in love with her. Directors need to realize that when you force a love interest into a story, it’s always obvious, for cupid’s sake!

Casting

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Sharon Ooja seemed to have given her all in this role, rendering a soulful performance that is uncharacteristic of the “dumb blonde” stereotype associated with her no thanks to Nollywood. In Òlòtūré, we see her reverberate with emotions and then get stripped by them. Yet, beyond the wonder of this unlikely character transitioning, her delivery lacked ingenuity and it was not for lack of trying. Ooja may have given it her best but for a story as powerful as Òlòtūré, more was required. For instance, we needed a lead with a stronger command of the Nigerian pidgin language. To make up for this, we got over-exaggerated gum-chewing, unnecessary scenes and other snatches of implausibility. I am torn between appreciating Ooja’s apparent efforts and cringing at the questionable acting.

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However, where the lead’s acting falters, the supporting actors shine through. Wofai Fada, Ikechukwu, Omoni Oboli, and Kemi Lala Akindoju are commendable in their respective roles but special recognition (and my heart) goes out to Omowunmi Dada; it was love at first sight. Soft yet feisty, brash and loyal, I rooted for her till the very end. And, because I cannot talk about Dada’s role without dropping spoilers, all I can say is I would definitely love to see her in more movies.

Special recognition also to Sambasa Nzeribe and his knack for making hearts thud on behalf of whoever is unfortunate to cross his path in this film. While Nzeribe’s performances are always powerful, I worry that he has been typecast so often that the only time I saw him play “good guy” in a film, I burst out laughing.

Cultural Representation

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Seeing a Nigerian film that captures tribes outside Yoruba, Hausa, and Igbo, was an immense thrill. Sampling the Idoma language of Benue state and the Bini language of Edo state, this makes the story even more grounded, especially if you are from these tribes or are familiar with its people like I am. As a result, scenes where Ehi and Linda speak to their mothers in the native tongue leave a warm, fuzzy feeling at the pit of my stomach.

Outside my nostalgia, cultural representation is such an important yet rarely-explored concept in Nollywood. You will love to see it.

Plausibility

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You cannot fully appreciate Òlòtūré without acknowledging the lengths that this film was willing to go to achieve plausibility. This one does not hold back and it does not care if you are squeamish. The violence is provoking to a point that it is unnerving. In the scene where Chuks (Ikechukwu) repeatedly hits Blessing (Kemi Lala Akindoju), you want to instinctively reach upwards and cover your face too. Where Ehi (Sharon Ooja) suffers violation at the party with the politician, you are present in every wave of her pain.

Sadly, this is the reality faced by tons of women all over the world, and Òlòtūré does not shy from the vividness of these stories. Warning: If you have suffered similar experiences or are easily triggered, you may want to skip this one.

Yet, as vivid as this story goes, I must point out certain loopholes that could have been avoided. For instance, stereotypes about sex workers speaking entirely in the Nigerian pidgin language.  This is most clear when loverboy Peju (Blossom Chukwujekwu) calls Ehi (Sharon Ooja) and gets her voicemail. If you ask me, not even a sex worker would record her voicemail in pidgin. That scene was so unrealistic that it was amusing.

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Speaking of which, do you remember when I said she said Ehi’s naivete was a little too convincing? Here is why. I am not familiar with the intricacies of investigative journalism but it makes no absolute sense for a “reputable” media organization to send their staff on an undercover mission without a clear plan. All the while, and with every risk Ehi took, I kept screaming, “What was the plan?” Also, why admit that she is young and naive yet let her into a den of seasoned criminals and actual sex workers. What was expected to happen?

Then, we have to endure a scene where Ehi is making calls to report a situation to her boss in an open marketplace, few steps away from where this “situation” took place. I can’t decide which is worse: the terrible scripting or acting.

Also, I believe I speak for most people when I say that when Alero (Omoni Oboli) was introduced into the film, we got the sense that she was the bad guy. She did not need to smoke cigarette after cigarette to prove this.

Language

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For me, the language resonated the most where words were hardly uttered. The characterization of Omowunmi Dada stands distinctly throughout the story, her kind heart and the almost-gentle manner with which she handles the ugly realities of her existence, all told in little words.

Face-offs between the sex workers were so exciting and authentic that I often felt shoved into the story. An adventure! (LOL)

However, two wordless scenes stand out for me. One: On the morning after Ehi’s rude awakening, the camera pans to her Abuser, holding court in his living room with unperturbed bliss as Ehi is half-carried out of his home. I recognize the intent in that one act to incite outrage in the audience, and it is quite effective.

Second: At the end, Beauty (Bukola Oladipupo) dashes past Peju (Blossom Chukwujekwu) with the speed of lighting as she runs off into the horizon. Peju is stunned, but he, of course, does not recognize that this is the key to his investigation. It occurred to me how random things like that happen in our lives and we will never know that this is the answer to a question we have been pondering and may continue to ponder. A small yet profound scene.

Rating

I’d give Oloture a strong 7/10 because the loopholes do little to mar the raw beauty of this story.  An overall great job from the cast and crew. Worthy of mention is the stellar cinematography too.

P.S: What was the point of Beverly Osu’s cameo though?

 

Also Read: Michaela Coel’s “I May Destroy You” Will Get You Tearing Up

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