Film reviews

The Ghost and the House of Truth – Film Africa 2020

This year’s Film Africa is being delivered multi-platform.  Running from 30th October to the 8th November, presentations are through a mix of screenings at the BFI on London’s South Bank, online watch parties through Facebook, and flexible online availability through BFI Player.  With a mixture of shorts and features, director Q&As and virtual dinner events, Film Africa has responded to the pandemic with imagination.

The opening film this year is The Ghost and the House of Truth.  From Nigerian director Akin Omotoso, the film, set in Lagos, follows Bola Ogun (Susan Wokoma), a counsellor specialising in working with convicts and their victims to broker a degree of reconciliation.  With a career built on the premise that forgiveness is a way to heal, when Bola’s daughter, Nike, is murdered, her whole belief system is challenged.  Into this comes Folashade (Kate Henshaw) as a police officer seeking justice for Bola.

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The film has two key strands in its efficiently used running time of a mere 67 minutes. Henshaw is magnetic as the driven cop looking to find Bola’s daughter in what is, effectively, a ‘whodunit’.  This involves a lot of well-shot street scenes (in fact, that is an understatement – camera placement and movement is absolutely top-tier throughout), giving a feel for life in Lagos.  The film takes about half of its running time to establish that a murder has been committed, and then we deal with the fallout and the search for justice.

This second strand deals with Bola trying to keep her sanity and her values intact.  She has spent her career preaching forgiveness and healing, and this is challenged as she approaches Folashade with ill-judged accusations about criminals she has encountered in the past.  As she begins to lose all composure and perspective, Bola begins to deviate from her detective’s advice and get involved in screaming accusations on the street, in scenes that are shot with an otherworldly quality at times – with the bottom portion of shots fading out of focus as Bola loses her grip on sanity.  All of this follows from the film’s opening where Bola learns funding for her work has been cut by 60%; as she is fighting for her deeply held beliefs, her life experiences are undermining those very values.  Folashade being visibly pregnant adds to a performance of deep empathy for our lead.

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The Ghost and the House of Truth is a marvellous piece of work with which to commence a festival of filmmaking.  Outstanding performances from both leads – with a spellbinding performance from Kate Henshaw – anchor a truly beautifully shot piece of work.  Although advertised as being in ‘pidgin English’, dialogue is perfectly clear without the provided subtitles, making this an accessible work for all audiences.  What is achieved here with such a slight running time is nothing short of terrific.  The whole point of choosing an opening film, surely, is to whet the appetite of the audience for what will follow over the subsequent days of the festival.  On that basis, this is a stunning success, as, with this, we can look forward to well-made, thoughtful pieces that increase our understanding of the filmmaking of a region that is little understood in the West.

The European premiere of The Ghost and the House of Truth will be held at the BFI at 8:40pm on Friday, 30th October, complete with a pre-recorded director introduction.  The film will debut at the same time through both Facebook and the BFI Player, the latter of which will provide online access to the film through the 10 days of the festival.  Book for the venue screening and register for the Watch Party at filmafrica.org. BFI Player offer a free 14-day trial, so you can watch the Film Africa 2020 films for free without commitment.

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