⚠ Spoiler Alert!
The Yoruba have a proverb on adultery. It is rooted in patriarchal proclivity as most of the tenets from the past are, but it is a valid proverb in our social milieu. Here, until recently, once you get married, divorce is an improbable option rarely considered. And when a woman, tired of a marriage for whatever reason—abuse, boredom, etc.—seeks comfort outside that marriage as most husbands do, it becomes a deadly scenario. It takes a lot of secretiveness, courage, rebellion to fate, and desperation for a woman to commit adultery in an overwhelming patriarchal society. While it is 2021, we mustn’t delude ourselves about the nature of our society, where prominent remnants of blatant patriarchy are obviously still present. This means that proverb, and the need for a modern age woman to resort to its demand, remains morbidly probable today. Murder, deceit, suicide; the proverb goes:
“Obìnrín tó bá n yàn alè, tí o bá pá ọkọ, o má pá ará rẹ.”
We can admit that La Femme Anjola fits seamlessly into the film noir. There is a brooding fatalistic tone set from the opening scene and followed through, the promise of lasting pessimism placed in the hands of two anti-hero protagonists. There is death, there is carnage, there is betrayal, there is sex and, in the final act, to complete the full circle, a detective is thrown into the mix. The director, Mildred Okwo (The Meeting), pairs again with veteran scriptwriter, Tunde Babalola (The Meeting), on a journey into the Lagos underbelly. There are few better settings than the socially dichotomous Lagos, but, in the end, something awry in the first act seeps into the second act, and sullies the efforts of the third act.
Let it be known that both Tunde Babalola (Scriptwriter) and Mildred Okwo (Director) are absolutely capable at their duties. There is a clear effort at plot structuring, characters, events, and beats set up to pay off in the third act of the film. And Tunde Babalola has written fine mystery movies before with Kunle Afolayan’s, October 1st. Such attention to plot structuring should ideally cater for plot plausibility and character developments, but here it doesn’t. Instead, the final act finds itself salvaged by grandiose twists, then conveniently ruined by the same grandiose twists.
Mildred Okwo, too, knows the trade, and it shows. The composition in some scenes, the mature handling of violence, the deliberateness of shots and cuts; we are in the hands of a veteran director, we know. Yet, something about the storytelling, consequence of the script, is inconsistent, wobbly, and at times, pretentious. As Oscar Wilde flippantly put forth, “all art is quite useless.” He might have been wrong or otherwise, but what’s worse than overt politically charged and politically indifferent works is an indecisive one. While La Femme Anjola confidently cements itself as a noir, it fails to stamp authority on anything else, and so its dig at Nigerian corruption in the final act becomes watery and a tad ingratiating. Its declaration of its characters as chasing the Nigerian dream is questionable—what is the Nigerian dream and why are these wealthy characters chasing this askew definition of it? What could potentially have been a great movie—after the rigmarole of twists, counter-twists, and the convenient implausibility of certain events—becomes a decent film.
Dejare (Nonso Bassey), the protagonist, resident on the illustrious Lagos Island, is a brash, egocentric stockbroker by day and talented saxophonist at night. He is willing to lose the stability of his life—a beautiful, efficient fiancée, Thabisa (Mumbi Maina)—for Anjola (Rita Dominic), lead singer of a small band, La Femme Anjola, in a night club on mainland Lagos. While both characters adequately mirror each other, Anjola edges Dejare. Anjola is arrogant, classy, wife of the night club owner, suave, a seductive, street smart go-getter, and, consequently, a femme fatale.
She takes fancy in Dejare who is, at this point, smitten by Anjola. He is an intelligent young man who, paradoxically, is also as naïve as a domesticated rabbit. It is, as the city the movie is set in, an interesting dichotomy. His naiveté is impossibly unrealistic for a stockbroker who lives in Lagos. This is what faults the first act towards its end, plagues the entirety of the second act, and what the third act tries to redeem with its exhaustive twists. Dejare is too naïve for an adult Nigerian man born and bred in Lagos and attuned to the unethical manipulations of the stock exchange world (see Wolf of Wall Street). Dejare’s character, it appears now, is the undoing of La Femme Anjola.
When Anjola breaks down her backstory in the second act and shows cracks in her bravado, the viewer can already tell something is false about it all, the quickness of the reveal, helplessness of it all. It is a classic manipulation technique; make the man feel he is saving you from a worse man and it will break him, morph him into a hero, delude him from seeing that he is nothing but a cheat and a potential murderer. The adulterous act is relegated away and the act becomes camouflaged as redemption; a stupid man saving his lover from the clutches of her overbearing, abusive husband. This is the flaw of brilliant minds, thinking themselves absolute, it becomes difficult for such minds to notice manipulation disguised as flattery. When outright manipulation doesn’t work, Anjola throws the love card at Dejare. Now with a proper damsel in distress, Dejare steps in as prince charming.
La Femme Anjola ended in the second act. The murder completed, Dejare discovering Anjola’s numerous unfaithfulness and manipulations, with Dejare at its helm, the plot, with nothing more to lose, comes full round and should have closed. But the aggressive plot twists follow. Numerous and sometimes, cancelled out with implausible conclusions. There was no need for some of those plot twists, no need for a character introduced in the final act and hitherto unmentioned to be so important to the resolution of the internal and external conundrums of the film. But the film went on, and, interestingly, it redeems itself in the third act. Then it confounds itself again. It must be reiterated that real thought went into the structuring of the script and Tunde Babalola is undoubtedly a brilliant writer, but La Femme Anjola will go down as one of his and Mildred Okwo’s lesser works.
Perhaps Tunde Babalola had that Yoruba proverb in mind when he wrote this script. It is possible, as it is not, that the proverb was the tagline to the whole script, and the noirish world was complementary to the proverb. Or it could be the other way, that the noir was template and the proverb complemented it. What appears certain here is that one notion developed fully in the veteran scriptwriter’s mind and the others were subjected to myopia. However, the proverb remains, and its essence, interestingly, is fulfilled in one fell swoop, in one scene. It is either a profound coincidence or the plot machination of a fine writer. The proverb was all that came to mind as the closing scenes unfolded:
“An adulteress, if she doesn’t murder her husband, will eventually commit suicide.”
La Femme Anjola takes the proverb a step further; it does both.
- A car flipped in a Nollywood movie and it flipped right and it looked right and the accident was executed adequately. We will take that as a win.
- Although there is an overhead bridge establishing shot, it doesn’t feel as wanton and garish as it usually does in other Nollywood movies.
- There is a night club scene in the movie, in it Dejare’s fiancé, Thabisa, finds out he is cheating on her with Anjola. It has one of the best compositions I have seen in recent times.
Our Nollywood Model Checklist tally
- An aerial shot of a road in Lagos: ✅
- Instagram/Internet superstars (that cannot act):
- Sloppily placed ads:
- Crass comedy:
- A handful of standout actors: ✅
- A sprinkle of old Nollywood actors: ✅
- A novel idea ruined by poor execution:
La Femme Anjola is out in cinemas nationwide (Nigeria).