The Lost Café is a 2018 Kenneth Gyang-directed film recently revived by a Netflix acquisition. It was shot in Nigeria and Norway. The film has a thin cast list and minimal locations which reinforce the general feel of it being a student film. The Lost Café, interestingly, is about a literal lost café which epitomizes the film’s problem, an indefiniteness on what it wants to pursue. There is Ose (Tunde Aladese) who anchors everyone together, but she is lackluster as lead and, although not entirely her fault, the film itself is without any sustainable vigour, no core conflict interesting enough to keep the story alive. What this translates to, usually, is a boring film.
Ose has gained admission to a film school in Norway and must leave home, including her boyfriend, Hakeem (Omatta Udalor), to focus on a new life. Not long after she leaves, she finds out that Hakeem has cheated on her with her best friend, Dora (Anita Daniels). This betrayal, coupled with an older parental betrayal in Ose’s life, causes her great emotional turmoil. In one of her wanderings through Norway, she stumbles upon a café where she meets an old man named Thorkell (Terje Lien). Thorkell, throughout the film, discusses love and heartbreak with Ose. But at the end, we find an impulsive twist—an entirely avoidable convoluted ending. It is a desperate ditch at breathing some life into the film but it only leaves the film with difficult questions: Is Ose mentally unwell? Or is she just clairvoyant?
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The film is directed by a man who set out to show us he knows his trade. The Lost Café is an artistic bridge for Kenneth Gyang, a far cry from the haphazard nature of Confusion Na Wa and a foreshadowing to the prostitution theme Oloture deals with. The film has excellent picturesque shots of the Norwegian hillside. The constant arrangement of actors within space and the dynamic between both is deliberately serene. Unfortunately, this only adds to the overall slow pacing and dull mood of the film. The country is beautiful, the shots of the actors, in relation to these places, are great, but everything remains at rest at all times; the lead, the acting, the shots, the story, and the closest spike of life is in Jeremiah Gyang and Asa’s ‘Comforter’s song’. It should not be mistaken that films of this nature are consigned to boredom. After all, the 1953 Yasujiro Ozu film, Tokyo Story, follows a similar route of serenity and so does Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love, which itself also deals with infidelity. But there are various spikes in these aforementioned stories, spikes that register vigour. The Lost Café lacks those spikes.
Discussing The Lost Café’s acting will be peculiar. The film references the famed Neorealism movement which revolted against the controlled fantastical concoctions that films regularly uphold. The point here is that Neorealism films oftenly use amateur actors to get true to life authenticity. “People who hadn’t learned to fake in front of the camera”, as a character in The Lost Café mentioned. The film then mentions Vittorio De Sica’s Umberto D. Perhaps The Lost Café has suggested, by referencing to them, that this is its choice acting prototype because it lacks in this department. Omatta Udalor, who plays Hakeem, is a bad actor. There is no grain of chemistry between him and Ose, something which the actors generally lack. Nothing beyond parental issues connect Ose and her Norwegian roommate, Sunniva (Jenny Boden), and even after they resolve their discord, their chemistry still doesn’t improve. There is no single outstanding performer in the cast, a crime that can be forgivable only if the film’s acting followed the neorealist strain of Umberto D’s. However, The Lost Café’s flaw—its overall lackluster feel—is the closest to its strength. The serenity eases the viewer into the film, but once in, there is nothing else to offer. It is like watching the endlessness of the sea, however long it holds you, you eventually look away from it because nothing particularly exciting happens in infinity.
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- There is a scene peculiar because of its awkwardness. Ose is in bed, half naked with Hakeem who has sat her up to wear a necklace around her neck. She can barely look at herself in the mirror. This isn’t the question of a moral police, but could that scene have been shot without the actress half-naked and still retain its essence? I think so, yes. It felt as though the nakedness was pure exoticism.
The Lost Cafe is currently streaming on Netflix.
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I just saw this film and I love this review so much… And the side musing is so on point. I quite disagree with there being no improvement between Ose and Sunniva: I thought I saw like a teeny weeny bit of chemistry as they saw a movie together, twas a small bit but that was all there was to it. In the scene after that, they look like strangers again.