When my girl friend remotely suggested that we should go and see the movie Ijè, I cringed within me and replied with an emphatic No! Yes, I had seen the mouth-watering trailer several times but my aversion for Nollywood movies and anything connected to it had grown to a mammoth height. Nollywood had disappointed me to an irreconcilable position. Thousands of content bereft movies (if I could call them that) are churned out weekly and I wasn’t about to be fooled by anyone even by the delectable Omotola Jalade Ekeinde (Nollywood debut-“Venom of Justice” 1995) and the ever green Genevieve Nnaji (Nollywood debut- “Last Party” 1998).
The duo were casted in a 35mm film IJÉ subtitled the Journey along side Clem Ohameze. IJÉ was shot in Los Angeles California and in Jos Nigeria and featured Hollywood actor; Ulrich Que and Hispanic sensation, Odalys Garcia. It was directed by Chineze Anyaene.
My girl friend threatened that if we didn’t go, there would be “consequences”. She said this with a wink and I wasn’t about to lose some of my privileges so I obliged. At least now I had an excuse.
The cinema was packed full with people. Like an avalanche, IJÉ had won many fans all over the world after its premier on the 31st of July in Lagos.
IJÉ tells the story of two sisters Chioma Opara (Genevieve Nnaji) and Anya Opara Michino ( Omotola Jalade Ekeinde) who live in Nigeria but are separated by Anya’s pursuit of the American dream. After about 10 years, Anya is accused of killing three men, one of which is her music producer husband.
IJÉ begins with a song Awè from Asa’s self titled album. The choice of song calmed my nerves as it also carried the wrongfully accused theme of the movie. I told myself I would endure the movie for Asa’s sake! The first scene showed Chioma coming into the United States and being “harassed” by a custom official. This was a very instructive and informative part of the movie. It depicted the harsh realities the black skin could face on foreign soil. The choice of Nigerian attire showed how a woman can still look attractive and sexy without turning her into a sex object unlike cloths worn by many actresses in most Nollywood movies.
After Chioma settles into her Hotel, she sets off to visit Anya who is held in a US Penitentiary. My incipient optimism for the movie reclined at this scene. I agree the sisters needed time to catch up on their lost years but the scene was extremely long-a ghastly three to four minutes (in real time!). It lost the intended emotional connect it was supposed to have with the viewer. I remembered my pop corn and coke here.
The next day, Chioma went to see Anya’s rather acerbic and unsympathetic attorney who had advised Anya to plead guilty to manslaughter (a lesser crime) in order to receive a lesser sentence. Genevieve in her usual “never say die” manner we know her for would have none of it. She was convinced her sister was innocent and was determined to prove it. Rather fortuitously, she meets Ulrich Que, an unproven attorney who worked for the same law firm that represented Anya.
Que resigns his job with the firm and decides to be Anya’s lawyer. He begins to build his case but the “truth” lay with Anya who had the key to her own freedom. Only she could tell what happened that night. While Que tries to prepare his case, he falls in love with Chioma in the process. Their relationship was a little too “Nollywood” for my liking but what is a twenty-first century picture without some romance. Even Neo and Trinity (The Matrix), a Sci-Fi movie shared more than a kiss, so I forgave them.
One beautiful thing worthy of note in IJÉ was the seamless way the movie flashed back and forth into time. We knew where and when we were supposed to be in time. We saw scenes of their child hood (the raid in “Oku” and Anya being reprimanded by her father) without the “10 years later” jolt we are accustomed to in Nollywood.
Another commendable accomplishment by IJÉ was the background story around a necklace the sisters shared. It reminded me of Academy award winning movie, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” where Chang Chen (A desert bandit) and Jen fell in love in the wilderness. Their romance was not focal to the plot in the movie similar to the necklace in IJÉ but it erupted such ineffable emotions that identified the viewer with Anya and Chioma’s love for each other.
The court proceedings brought the movie to its crescendo. The “truth” was going to be known. Mrs Anya Michino was going to tell us how three men ended up dead in her apartment. Did she do it for the money, so as to come and live like a queen in black Africa like the district attorney would have the jury believe? Or did something else happen?
Well after Anya told her story, I struggled with the realism of IJÉ for a while. This woman (Anya) was prepared to go to prison for arguably the rest of her life to preserve her “dignity”. It was a battle between her fathers perceived pride versus her loss of freedom. My question is this, was her father’s approval enough for her to go to jail for? A father she had not seen in a decade. One could argue here that Hollywood’s “A” list actress, Kate Winslet who played Hanna in the movie “The Reader” was prepared to die for her perceived actions in a Nazi concentration camp to protect a secret she believed was worse than her Nazi past. The fact that IJÉ, a movie made by a Nigerian got me thinking is enough to laud the movie.
For those still planning to go see IJÉ, it will not disappoint you. You are going to be entertained, thrilled, and shocked. It also had some really funny clips, like when Chioma remonstrated the hotel receptionist- “You call this streets tough? Come to Lagos! Warinran”. That scene set the hall into a plethora of laughter.
My major grouse with IJÉ however was the end. It had no punch. IJÉ came to me at the end as a crime and punishment flick. Some sort of badly done shylock. The movie should not have focused on the American justice system or court room drama. One could easily have gotten that by replaying the DVDs of Rules of Engagement (Samuel L Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones) or A Few Good Men (Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise). Since the movie had alluded to their fathers disappointment in Anya’s life choices, it should have at least given her a “home coming”. The socio-cultural aspect of the movie as regarding an evolving african culture was left out. People who see the movie abroad are still left to thinking that Africa is in the Stone Age.
Anya’s father should have been shown welcoming her back like the prodigal son. Wouldn’t that have portrayed Africans as deeply loving and emotional people that set culture aside for family bonds? It would have been that way.
IJÉ I must say is a must watch. I encourage you all to see it. It succeeded in winning me over and I’m sure it will do the same for you. As we filed out of the cinema hall, my girl friend asked me whether I enjoyed the movie, and I told her I did but prayed silently that there would be no IJÉ part two.
© 2010 Ewoigbokhan Otaigbe Itua