Monthly Archives: October 2019

“PIRAHNAS” [“La paranza dei bambini”]— Male Teen Gangs in Naples, Italy

“PIRAHNAS” [“La paranza dei bambini”]

Male Teen Gangs in Naples, Italy

Amos Lassen

Director Claudio Giovannesi’s controversial Italian crime drama “Piranhas” is the story of 15-year-old Nicola (Francesco Di Napoli) who is head of a small gang of teenage boys on motorbikes through the streets of Naples armed with guns and weapons. They are the new Mafia and plan to take over the local mob bosses’ territory. Only boys, they are on a get-rich-quick, power-crazy kick to become the new bosses of Naples— they steal, intimidate, drug-deal and kill as they go.

The boys are exceptionally close and the film explores the complex theme of friendship between boys. But Nicola also has a pretty girlfriend, Letizia (Viviana Aprea), daughter of a restaurant owner in another part of town that is ruled by another gang.

Piranhas is based on fact, but it is not a true story and ends with an open end but this expected from the start. It is a visceral and exciting film. We are along with the boy mob bosses for their thrill ride, on the road with them, following them along corridors and through rooms.

Di Napoli looks like a model and has a killer smile but when he’s got a gun in his hand or starts to get mad, he looks crazy and becomes Nicola. He carries the film just like his character holds the gang together. We see the streets of Naples in the film— this is Italy at its most raw. The film is fiction but it’s based on real street experiences and chronicles the criminal activity of a naïve group of 15-year-old friends. There’s a grimly comic aspect to the story about a group of teen miscreants who take over organized crime in Naples’s Rione Sanità neighborhood. As Nico and his friends cruise through the narrow streets of the historic Italian city on diminutive gas-powered scooters, we get a sense of dissonance and underlines its point that organized crime essentially operates at the emotional and intellectual level of a teenager.

Nico is an enterprising small-time criminal heading a rabble of similarly aged friends who burglarize Rolex shops and vandalize public Christmas trees as he routs out his neighborhood’s branch of the Neapolitan mafia. After he observes his mother (Valentina Vannino), who runs a laundromat, struggling to make the protection payments extorted by the local hoods, he deliberately befriends the slightly older Agostino (Pasquale Marotta), whom the mob considers a pariah because his father is collaborating with the Italian police. The two hatch a plan to displace the current don despite the fact that Nico and his friends are currently working for him, handily stealing a pistol from a local cop and procuring more guns from rival gang leader Don Vittorio (Renato Carpentieri).

Throughout, we’re reminded that Nico is still a child, living at home with his mother and his younger brother, Cristian (Luca Nacarlo). Nico’s plans, executed with about as much planning as one would expect of a teenage boy who still depends on his mother for breakfast, don’t go exactly as expected, and one anticipates with each successive crisis that Nico and his friends are done for. The director withholds any simple moral catharsis, in which the boys’ rash decisions would result in irreversible consequences. At least at first, the boys are rewarded for their wanton violence, and now flush with cash, Nico can impress the relatively innocent Letizia with lavish gifts, pulling her into the burgeoning quagmire he’s created. Nico exists to show the audience how the incomplete socialization of teenage boys results in a strange mixture of callousness and extreme sensitivity—the manner of infantile sociopathy that is so suited to a mafia don.

As I said, the film doesn’t end with the profound impact one suspects it’s aiming for. As the net of rival gangs and resentful, ousted mobsters close in on Nico and his friends, the story gets predictable. Despite the initial shock of witnessing these young people put themselves in such a dangerous position feels a bit safe. The boys’ future looks set from the start yet the screenplay struggles to rise above the level of a sociological study into the realm of exciting cinema.  

“DRAG KIDS”— Four Youngsters

“DRAG KIDS”

Four Youngsters

Amos Lassen

Four very different drag performers under twelve-years-old meet and celebrate themselves in Megan Wennberg’s documentary” Drag Kids”. Nemis, Stephan, Bracken, and Jason have dealt with tremendous  scrutiny over their brief drag careers, but what we see is a celebration. We follow the four young people as they prepare for the biggest performance of their lives at Montreal Pride where they demonstrate “the importance of artistic expression, community-building, and non-judgmental support for people of all ages.” This is a film about about gender, art, and affirming parenting that makes you both laugh and cry.

 Despite their different skill sets and birth gender assignments, the four are all pre-pubescent children who participate in the art of drag. The most famous of these children is Nemes, who goes by the name of Lactatia, a Quebecer who’s already being heard in the drag scene and has a worldwide following. Wennberg shows all four as they practice their moves before they go out into their regular gigs, each bigger after the one before.

We watch the children make decisions about how to appear in public and gives us a glimpse of the local scenes where these queens perform, which is mostly in the global north. Lactatia invites the other young queens to perform in Montreal where they perform a number together yet they’re  on stage as individuals with artistic minds. There’s also something fascinating watching adults cheer on children who are being their true selves.

Children and drag queens have a lot in common so it’s only natural the mainstreaming of drag is attracting younger kids. We have four very different youngsters from different cities who are drag queens, but don’t know any others their own age. They meet in Montreal and prepare for a Pride performance.

Director Wennberg captures the disappointments that come with liking something as a kid that is primarily accessible to adults and the joy of misfits meeting members of their own tribe. The high-pressure performance and meet-up conceit instigated by the documentary shows their insecurities and obnoxious behavior. Drag queens, like children, can be quite mean. Though Drag Kids is refreshingly open-minded about gender, it misses opportunities to go deeper into the more complex and uglier emotions that reflect the acceptance narrative.

Laddy Gaga, Queen Lactacia, Suzan Bee Anthony, and Bracken Hanke are the  stage names for the kids in the film that film focuses on them. They strut and sashay around the house, get up on stage individually, and then perform  Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’ at the Montreal Pride Parade. 

The kids are charming, hilarious, and have enough sass and confidence to back up their aspirations. They have great one-liners and that take down the patriarchy, religion, the 80s, homophobia, and general intolerance towards them. 

The documentary champions self-expression and champions the people that support it. The parents of each of the four drag queens are encouraging and show kind love. It’s hard to keep a grin off your face as you watch.

“Wham!, George Michael and Me: A Memoir” by Andrew Ridgeley— The Other Half Speaks

Ridgeley, Andrew. “Wham!, George Michael and Me: A Memoir”, Dutton,  2019.

The Other Half Speaks

Amos Lassen

For the first time, Andrew Ridgeley, one half of one of the most famous bands in the world, Wham!, the inside story of his lifelong friendship with George Michael, and the formation of a band that changed the shape of the music scene in the early 1980s. 
 
In 1975 Andrew met  shy new boy at school under his wing. They instantly hit it off and became fast friends. Their boyhood escapades at Bushy Meads School brought them together in bond that was never broken. They later found themselves on a roller coaster of success that took  them all over the world. They made and broke iconic records, they were treated like royalty, yet they stayed true to their friendship and to themselves. It was like being at a party that seemed as if it would never end. But it did end in front of tens of thousands of tearful fans at Wembley Stadium in 1986. This is
not only about Andrew and George. It is a photograph of the industry and the 80’s as it was.

Wham! was a “brief shining moment – an escape – and with the world the way it is escape is needed now more than ever.” Andrew talks and tells the whole truth taking us behind the scenes. This is also a beautiful tribute to George Michael.

“Do You Mind If I Cancel?: (Things That Still Annoy Me)” by Gary Janetti— A Wonderful Read

Janetti, Gary. “Do You Mind If I Cancel?: (Things That Still Annoy Me)”, Flatiron Books, 2019.

A Wonderful Read

Amos Lassen

In “Do You Mind If I Cancel”, Gary Janetti has written one of the wittiest and funniest book I have ever read. Janetti is the writer and producer for some of the most popular television comedies of all time, and creator of one of the most wickedly funny Instagram accounts has now written a hilarious, and poignant book about the indignities of everyday life. 

During his twenties, Janetti was in New York, dreaming of starring on soap operas while he worked at a hotel where “he lusts after an unattainable colleague and fights with a bellman who despises it when people actually use a bell to call him.” He writes about the pains in finding a job before the internet when one was almost required to talk on the phone all the time. He dreams about who to tell off when he finally wins an Oscar. This is a collection of  “essays from my childhood and young adulthood about things that still annoy me.” The essays are personal and filled with tenderness yet they keep us laughing.

Janetti writes about “hoping to meet Patty Lupone; working at Bennigan’s, at a Waldbaum’s, at a hotel in New York City; coming out at college; leading teenagers on a bike tour of Europe; watching and obsessing over television shows; being an outsider while dreaming of being an insider.” Those of us familiar with him know that he is a successful writer and producer of very successful shows, but here we see him struggling with his identity, his desire for friendship and love, and his belief that there is something great waiting for him.

The last chapter, a story about the generation of young men who died of AIDS, is a different ending to an otherwise laugh out read but it is beautiful and fitting.

“Sin•a•gogue: Sin and Failure in Jewish Thought” by David Bashevkin—“It is no more possible to think about religion without sin than it is to think about a garden without dirt.”

Bashevkin, David. “Sin•a•gogue: Sin and Failure in Jewish Thought”, Cherry Orchard Books, 2019.

“It is no more possible to think about religion without sin than it is to think about a garden without dirt.”

Amos Lassen

We have been taught to believe that we live in a world filled with sin and it is the nature of religion to deal with both sin and failure. The Jewish religion deals with sin both legally and philosophically in its own way.

The ideals of religion include sin and failure. Judaism has its own language and framework for sin that expresses themselves both legally and philosophically. Legal questions (“circumstances where sin is permissible or mandated, the role of intention and action”) and philosophical questions (“why sin occurs and how does Judaism react to religious crisis”) are examined by David Bashevkin here. This book presents the concepts of sin and failure in Jewish thought, bringing together biblical and rabbinic studies to give a holistic picture of the notion of sin and failure within Jewish thought.

The suffix “agogue” means to lead or grow. “Sin•a•gogue: Sin and Failure in Jewish Thought” gives readers frameworks and strategies to develop even while facing failure. The book provides

a series of powerful meditations on sin and failure in Jewish thought that are countered by the author ’s sense of humor. We get a guide to teshuvah that is useful and understandable. The prose is an entertaining, edifying, and eclectic survey of a sin and failure in Jewish thought. This is something all of us experience in life.

We sin and failure in contemporary life but through the lens of classical Jewish thought and contemporary Jewish thinkers. In doing so, we gain a better understanding of human nature, and the role that failure in our lives.

There is something about sin that causes us to not want to speak about it. After all, in order to recognize sin, one must judgmental and most of think that we are the opposite. We do not want to approach the subject. Here we are forced to look at sin. We all know that we sin and have an idea about ways to deal with it and overcome it. We definitely procrastinate in doing so. Rabbi Bashevkin unsettles us because he presents easy, sophisticated steps to self-recognition and correction. We are led to more knowledge and better deeds―and to a great deal of thought. 

Sin and failure are things we cannot escape in our daily lives. Through a variety of characters who are in dialogue with each other, we become part of a conversation that bring  sin and failure to life.

Through surveying the Jewish outlook on sin over the centuries,  we learn about the various Jewish movements arising from the enlightenment period and present-day Rabbis and thinkers. We read about why we sin, how we can atone and achieve penitence, how to react when we see the failings of our leaders and how we can live with our own failings.

“Galileo”, (Evan Reed Mysteries #2) by Ann McMan— Humans and Morality

McMan, Ann. “Galileo”, (Evan Reed Mysteries #2), Bywater Books, 2019.

Humans and Morality

Amos Lassen

We first met Evan Reed in Ann McMan’s “Dust” which was set two years prior to “Galileo”. She is still dealing with the gunsight wound she has and Stevie, her daughter is already looking at colleges. Stevie’s dad has remarried a much younger woman and Father Tim, Evan’s childhood friend, is questioning is faith. Evan’s relationship with publishing magnate, Julia Donne seems to be heading  somewhere. A lot is going on.

Tim Donovan, a Catholic priest has a guilty conscience. Katherine Donne a Parisian socialite long ago got rid of her self-respect. There is a group of amoral men whose fortunes and statuses make them distinguished and enviable. Because of their immorality, Evan enters the picture. Evan “is a highly principled political operative with an imperfect past, tasked with uncovering compromising material on a rotten judge up for nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court before he can be rushed through confirmation.” (This alone makes for a relevant read).

Evan knows she does not have a n easy task in trying to find damaging information against the judge since he’s been vetted many times. After an interview with an enigmatic madman, Evan finds herself trying to solve a puzzle that gets more complicated as time passes. Crime, money, conscience, and greed come together and this ensures that danger is sure to come. We are off on an intense journey into a world of power struggles and strange desires, and a subculture of promises that are  made, kept, and broken. This is a world that lies beneath the one we are standing on.

Evan is not afraid of danger and as she gets closer to it, her personal life comes alive. Julia Donne has her eyes on Evan. She is a progressive book publisher who wants answers to questions about her dead father. This side of the plot brings romance into mystery and gives a book with something for everyone. Such is the skill of writer Ann McMan. Both the mystery and the romance are well paced, timely and beautifully written. McMan knows where the story is going and her characters are developed to enhance that journey. It is through the characters that we look at the morality and problems of human experience. We read of the risks and the demons that society presents to us as well as how to surmount them. I really am not much of a mystery reader but “Dust” pulled me in and I have been awaiting this book for a while. Now it seems that I am waiting for the third.

“SISTERS OF THE WILDERNESS”— Five Young Zulu Women Venture Into The Wilderness

“SISTERS OF THE WILDERNESS”

Five Young Zulu Women Venture Into The Wilderness

Amos Lassen

Set in the iMfolozi wilderness, South Africa, in the oldest game park in Africa, “Sisters of the Wilderness” is the story of five young Zulu women going into the wilderness for the first time in their lives. They are on a journey of healing and self-discovery which that reminds us that we are intimately linked to nature and what we do to nature, we also do to ourselves. The film explores this primordial wilderness and its plight. It is severely threatened by open-cast coal mining on its border and the calamity of  rhino poaching.

The film is a multi-award winning social impact feature-length documentary, and the foundation for an outreach and audience engagement program which hopes to re-connect audiences with wild nature, raise awareness to the value of nature to our well-being and help the efforts to save the iMfolozi wilderness from the threat of unsustainable mining and illegal hunting of its rhinos.

Five courageous young women: Amanda Ntombela, Nokuphila Cele, Andile Nxumalo, Thembani Mdunge and Wendy Mkhwanasa are the five women we see in the tranquil photographs of wildlife and scenes from the iMfolozi Wilderness trail. These are juxtaposed with jarring images of Somkhele mine ripping the earth apart and is the backdrop for Karin Slater’s sensitive portrayal of the heartrending stories of the five young women. They journey through the iMfolozi wilderness and in the process form strong bonds to become Sisters of the Wilderness. The support they give each other lets them to release some of the heavy burdens they carry and they emerge from the Wilderness lighter and hopeful that the transforming journeys to improve their lives have begun.  

This is a powerful film that uses the metaphor of mining to underscore the violence and abuse inflicted by our society on girls and women, and also on wildlife species like rhino, and on the earth.  The painful stories of abuse and neglect  that are shared remind us  of the importance of respecting and honoring women and girls for the vitally important roles they play in upholding the heritage of this country.  

The film starts slowly: with a close-up of a giraffe’s head, seemingly looking directly at the audience. The giraffe disappears, then reappears, happily munching away, followed by a distant shot of the giraffe in its environment. Then there is a close-up of an elephant walking through the bush. Music swells and turns to noise: protected by razor wire, bulldozers assault and rip up the earth. A large dump truck carries off whatever it is the bulldozers are taking from beneath the ground. We hear the noisy sounds of dump trucks and a speeding train erupt. Then we go back to the bush, where there is silence and we hear a young woman’s voice mournfully saying,  “Everything happening to you is a wound.”

Five young women, seen from the back, embrace each other, watched over by an older woman. The voice continues, “My problems are small compared to yours.” The young women burst into tears. The older woman’s voice enters, “Please don’t lose hope. All your experiences are so painful. Don’t lose hope.” Thus begins the documentary about five young Zulu women, two rangers, and one mentor guide who go on a five-day walk through the iMfolozi wilderness. This meditation on sisterhood, wilderness and the precious begins, “Everything happening to you is a wound.”

This is the story of the double warzone as it focuses on the counter-story of the wilderness. As the never-named guide mentor explains, “The place we went to isn’t like any other place. We were in a powerful place. It’s powerful because of the river. Our aim of bringing people on the trail is for them to have a release.”

The sisters go on a five-day walk through a small and at a slow pace yet the emotional and learning distances covered “are astronomical. The young women immediately learn that in the wilderness, they must walk the paths made by the animals. There must be no heroically “manmade” paths in the wilderness because those paths are built of disrespect for the local and indigenous environment. The women learn to respect the environment as they learn to respect one another and themselves. The speed with which these five young women learn to need one another speaks to the forms of isolation, under the rubric of independence, in their everyday lives. They remark on their lessons in sisterhood.”

Through sharing experiences and visions, they learn to speak and listen to one another and learn to speak and listen to themselves. The wilderness them to share. Each day is a new day. The wilderness is “a powerful place” and this becomes a lesson in the meaning of Zulu history and identity; the geographies of inclusion and exclusion that go into constructing a “wilderness zone”; the devastation of mining on local people and environment, and on the future; the meaning of the wilderness itself.

“How do five young Zulu women walking through the wilderness intersect with thousands and tens of thousands of women and non-gender conforming individuals filling the public space to end gender-based violence? Both actions speak to the importance of release in the context of an analysis and a politics of women’s power and freedom.”

Another world is still possible. One of the young women notes that she has learned that even if she has no mother, no parents, she has sisters. “Sisters of the Wilderness” argues that we should all learn learn that the wilderness can be, our sister.

“MEHSAMPUR”— A Non-Traditional Documentary

“MEHSAMPUR”

A Non-Traditional Documentary

Amos Lassen

On March 8th, 1988, Punjabi folk music icon Amar Singh Chamkila and his partner Amarjot Kaur were shot and killed as they pulled into the Punjabi town of Mehsampur. The crime remains unsolved, and the killers were never caught. In the documentary, “Mehsampur”, director Kabir Singh Chowdhry attempts to put together the puzzle of their deaths through this hybrid narrative-doc structure that will likely leave more questions than answers.

Chamkila was a controversial figure in Punjabi music; he offended many with his especially conservative religious folks in the region. Nonetheless, he was successful and popular.  His music took him around the world to enthusiastic audiences of Punjabi expats. However, his appeal was not universal and many people think it may have led to his death.

This is not a traditional documentary or true crime story as the premise of the film is sketchy. It begins with a filmmaker named Devrath (Devrath Joshi) who seems to be trying to piece it all together, but soon goes way off. He manages to track down some of the principals in Chamkila’s life, though it doesn’t always go according to plan.

For every scrap of detail we are able to unearth along with Devrath, writer Akshay Singh throws us a maddening curve-ball that makes the viewer wonder what exactly is going on. Devrath the kind of guy who’ll do anything to get his footage without regard to those from whom he needs assistance. As a result he uses and manipulates anyone he sees as a potential help to himself and this certainly does not ingratiate him to the audience. I found myself not liking him very much but I also could not look away.

Devrath’s mental state seems to deteriorate as he comes in contact with a wannabe actress named Manpreet who he drags along in order to film a recreation, and ends up violating her in much the same way he’s violated the truth of this situation by forcing all of the other incidental characters to tell the story he wants to tell, whether it is true or not.

Those looking for an answer to the question of who killed Chamkila may walk away disappointed, but those interested in why people still care about this crime will likely come away with much more. This is among the most chilling avant-garde attempts I’ve seen and is totally obtuse.

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Director Kabir Singh Chowdhry is a new and exciting talent, and his  “Mehsampur” is confounding and confusing, bold and vigorous, a film for audiences to puzzle over, and that’s a good thing.

 “Mehsampur” left me quite perplexed, regarding both its nature (an experimental mockumentary one could say if the basic premise was not a real event) and its quality. Devrath’s attitude is rather extreme, as he asks anyone who comes his way about the killings rather rudely, and spends much of his time in bars watching some very strange live performances. Eventually he tracks down the former manager of the group, Kesar Singh Tikki, who seems to hold a grudge against them and is keener on promoting his other acts through Devrath’s film. Later on, he meets Lal Chand, an actual member of the band who was also shot but survived. After a number of events, that could only be described as surrealistic, Devrath forces the unwilling Chand and Manpreet on a trip to the area where the murder occurred. And then things get really strange.

The narrative occasionally functions as in a feature, but rather surrealistic film, since the actual characters involved in the case mostly act, instead of “being interviewed”. The film’s purpose is rather vague (showing the real Punjab? finding the murderers? creating a feature?), the movie has a raw energy that derives mostly from three factors. The first is the presence of Devrath Joshi as Devrath, whose obnoxious, offensive and weird resolve keeps the film moving forward at all times, despite  the fact that the pace is not so fast. The difference in character between Lal Chand and Navjot Randhawa who plays Manpreet, also works quite well in the disorienting base the film lies upon.

The second is Devrath Joshi Kabir Chowdhry and Rahat Mahajan’s cinematography, which has captured the various settings and episodes in a way that may not be so artful, but fits the unusual aesthetics of the film to perfection. The third is the imagination and the direction of Chowdhry, who has created a spectacle that works in so many ways (even as a psychedelic road movie), despite the lack of abiding to almost any norm regarding fiction or documentary. “Mehsampur” is not easy to describe, since it is more of an experience than a film, or to watch for that matter. As an experience, it is truly worthwhile seeing. It frees itself from the systematized shackles of a documentary, a docudrama, etc. as it traces the story of a filmmaker trying to trace back the events of yesteryear Punjabi folk singer Amar Singh Chamkila and his wife Amarjot’s assassination.

It neither tells us very much about Chamkila like a documentary would, nor does it fictionalize the events like a feature would. We are caught somewhere in between, in a dysfunctional state of nothingness. This is where Mehsampur works as an experience. The beauty lies in its ability to not take itself seriously. We are looking at director Chowdhry, a filmmaker, filming a filmmaker, filming the Chamkila story. The film follows Devrath’s handy cam, which Chowdhry craft-fully alternates between his own camera. Whenever the shots shift to the former, we sense a very personal style of storytelling.

There are some parts of the movie which slump, because of the long and indulgent details given by the interviewee. But in these sections, Chowdhry masterfully adds surreal jumps, which provide relief, and quickly go to another part of the narrative.

Chowdhry had originally set out to make a very different film, a straightforward—but fictionalized—account of the assassination, with the Khalistan movement as its backdrop. But, he became increasingly frustrated as he found himself following in the footsteps of other film-makers. The idea that so many film-makers have come to meet these people, taken their stories and then nothing has come of it bothered him.

At the same time, Chowdhry was dealing with discomfort at the intrusive nature of his own research into the militancy movement, and his reactions to the stories he uncovered. In one village, he came across a dozen men who all claimed to have been tortured by the police. As man after man dropped his trousers to show off the scars on his thighs, Chowdhry’s horror turned into morbid humor. When an acquaintance offered him funding for a short film, Chowdhry put the original script on the back-burner and focused his attention on making the much more experimental Mehsampur. They went back to Punjab and shot without a script, instead depending on a 30-page treatment note for guidance. This is an unprecedented style of filmmaking in the Indian Cinema and, definitely, a work glowing with brilliance.

“SIBERIA AND HIM”— Doomed From the Beginning

“SIBERIA AND HIM”

Doomed From the Beginning

Amos Lassen

We have all learned during our school years that Siberia is a place of desolation and very sparsely populated. The people who do live there just manage to get by as they seem to be constantly praying that there will be no more war close to them.

Sasha’s family becomes concerned when his grandmother who lives in Siberia does not answer her phone for several days and so they send him off on a journey that will take several days to see if his grandmother is okay. The journey will be taken on foot and on horseback when the roads run out.

His brother-in-law Dima, a local policeman, is sent with him and we discover that the two men have been having a secret affair for some time, and throwing them together like this is creates quite a volatile situation. Because of the traditional culture in which they live,  the two  men have very little or no chance of making any sort of relationship work, but that still doesn’t prepare us for the end of the film. Viatcheslav Kopturevskiy wrote and directed this and it will stay with you for quite a while.

“WALKING WITH SHADOWS”— Gay in Nigeria

“WALKING WITH SHADOWS””

Gay in Nigeria

Amos Lassen

Set in contemporary Nigeria, “Walking with Shadows” is about what happens when an apparently happily married man is outed as gay. Ebele/Adrian (Ozzy Agu). He realized he was gay and had an affair as a younger man but also understood that he risked losing his family and status if he pursued it. So he gets married and has kids, and suppresses his feelings until his wife receives an anonymous phone call.  Watching Adrian cope is indeed interesting, but it is even more interesting to see his wife Ada’s reaction. She is invited to lunch with a group of polished and poised women and naturally we wonder if she’s going to be mocked and laughed at because of the gossip going around in town. Instead, it turns out that the women are  all married to gay men, and have come to terms with being so, because they are still financially supported. The film is a moving social portrait of queer acceptance, or lack thereof in Nigeria. 

Writer/director Aoife O’Kelly’s adaptation of Jude Dibia’s groundbreaking 2005 novel feels like a throwback to sincere, social issue dramas of the 1960s. The setting of Lagos and the exploration of queer Nigeria give fresh relevance to material that might otherwise feel old.

Ebele Njoko is known to his friends and family as Adrian. Married to interior designer Ada (Zainab Balogun), he is a devoted husband and father. Their romance seems enviable to everyone. We first see them together on a sandy beach revisiting a rock where they once carved their initials. We return to the beach setting at the end of the film with a clearer appreciation of their relationship.

Ada receives a phone call claiming that her husband is gay. He does not deny the accusations and seems relieved that he is finally able to admit his attraction to men. Ada calls into question everything she has taken for granted and orders him to leave the family home.

The film follows the consequences for Adrian as the gossip about him becomes public knowledge. Family members turn against him, his employment is thrown into doubt, the church vows to cast out the devil in him and Ada is tormented by questions of whether their entire marriage has been fake.

Flashbacks punctuate the main story and establishes Adrian’s family and religious background. He is always slightly seen as an outsider. There is a constant questioning of masculinity. These flashbacks also show the genuine love between Adrian and Ada. There is never any doubt that they are soulmates.

Adrian finds sanctuary with a gay friend and his partner and also enjoys a taste of romance with visiting Frenchman Antoine. Every reaction to Adrian’s homosexuality seems to reflect the dangers of being openly gay in Nigeria. He becomes a heroic figure as he quietly resists all the pressure to head back into the closet.

“The performance of Ozzy Agu has a teary-eyed vulnerability that manages to keep a sympathetic thread going through the storyline. HIs wife, actress Zainab Balogun, also has a dignity that manages to establish both her and Adrian as victims.” However, overly focusing on the edited dramatic highlights caused the loss of the supportive elements of character and context that would have made them more meaningful and touching.