The 19th New York African Film Festival: “Relentless”

“Relentless” is fundamentally a film about Lagos. About how director Andy Okoarafor sees it. In Okoarafor’s rendering, Lagos is a hard, inhospitable city, where people look stressed out, always hustling. They’re always on the move. But Okoarafor also has loves this city. At the film’s heart is the strong-jawed lead character Oba, played by Gideon Okeke, who spends most of his driving and walking around the city–its clogged highways, in its churches and beach bars.  He is a former peacekeeper, back from Sierra Leone, where his wife, a local woman, was brutally murdered by rebel soldiers. Emotionally scarred, he returns to Nigeria where he now runs a security company protecting politicians and other important people. On one of his wanderings, he saves a prostitute (played by singer Nneka Egbuna) who fell off a bridge–she was pushed by people who want her dead.  She wants Oba to help her find her friend, another prostitute, who has gone missing after entertaining some politicians and generals. Oba realizes that his new clients may be involved.

Director Okoarafor, who has a background in music videos and fashion, and his expertise in using arresting scenes to promote something shows here, in the beautifully framed and filmed scenes. His work looks nothing like the washed out tone and empty locations of South African films (the only other place on the African continent where a locally-funded film industry exist), and instead, reminds us of Tom Ford’s work in A Single Man, only grittier.

Beyond the aesthetics of the film are Oba’s seeming loneliness and aimlessness. (He has flashbacks of his earlier, happy life with his Sierra Leonean wife.) In interviews Okoarofor has spoken about showing “a true reflection of Africa today” and how Africans “go about our normal everyday lives without any exaggeration or apology”; his film remains true to that injunction.

Here’s the trailer

Relentless,” a showcase presentation at the festival, plays on Friday, April 13, at 8pm at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center.

* Africa is a Country will review films from the 19th New York African Film Festival (April 11-17) over the next few days. Also come to the two panels on “Cinema and Propaganda” which we are co-presenting with the Festival on Saturday, April 14, from 1.30-4pm at the Lincoln Center in Manhattan.


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