‘Relentless', Andy Amadi Okoroafor's piece of arthouse cinema may leave you befuddled upon initial viewing because it tests your patience and questions your vision.
Ten minutes into the movie, you scratch your head in bewilderment because the film gives nothing away before time; and you are made to put in the work of deducing and filling in the blanks.
The artistic Okoroafor who wrote, produced and directed ‘Relentless' says he wanted to do something completely antithetical to Nigerian cinema. A viewing of the film reveals that he succeeded in five main ways: narrative, setting, characterisation, soundtrack and cinematography.
Though the director is Paris-based, the storyline is a home-grown one. Obi (Gideon Okeke), an ex-soldier who was part of a peace-keeping force in the Sierra Leonean conflict has returned to Lagos, bearing the scars of war and loss.
He sets up a security outfit whose services are sought by politicians gearing up for the upcoming general elections. Then there is Honey, played by soulful singer Nneka Egbuna, a prostitute who finds herself entangled with the powers that be. She crosses paths with Obi as she probes the sudden disappearance of a friend and fellow prostitute; while Obi makes startling discoveries about those he is supposed to be protecting.
‘Relentless' shows Lagos in its true image. The slums, traffic, nightlife, music, law enforcement, pimps, sensibilities and ambience; here is the city in a no-holds barred once-over. Rarely, if ever, has life in the city of Lagos been given this sort of treatment in any Nigerian film. The filmmaker certainly outdid himself.
Characterisation steals some shine of its own through Obi - he of the perpetually harassed and haunted look - one minute evoking empathy, the other exasperation. And how wonderful to watch the flourishing ‘Tinsel' star, Okeke, eat up this role so effortlessly.
His performance showed a lot of depth, sensitivity and understanding in that he became the character in every sense of the word. Needless to say, the film owes something to this role and the man who played it.
The part of Honey may not have been as strong as that of the protagonist, still it could have been compelling as Nneka, for whom this is a debut gig, merely gives a passable portrayal. She does not do justice to the Honey we might have envisaged.
Others who feature in the film include: Ropo Ewenla as Obi's best friend, Ola; Jibola Dabo as Alaki, the political godfather; and Toyin Oshinaike.
Haitian American actor, Jimmy Jean-Louis who played Mo'Nique's love interest in ‘Phat Girls', has a cameo role in ‘Relentless', a treat that's not to be missed. Making you wonder, ‘Why feature an actor of this calibre if you are only going to give him about three lines and stamp his face on a few shoddy campaign posters?'
However all is bright and breezy again when we consider the artists and choice songs that make up the soundtrack of this flick; a retinue that indicates that this was a well thought out part of the filmmaking process. Featured artists include: Tony Allen, Keziah Jones, Nneka, Ade Bantu, Kuku and General Pype. Every song matches its own scene and lends its significance to the whole movie. Tasteful camera work, lighting and special effects clinch the deal for ‘Relentless'.
Watching the movie, you may not understand why the rationale behind certain actions are not clearly defined, yet you can't help feeling it was more a product of artistic necessity than cinematographic cock-up.
However, this may have been a bit overdone as the flow of the film feels discordant sometimes, yet the trick is to make the viewer oblivious to these alterations.
‘Relentless' is Okoroafor's first shot at feature length movie and it is a brilliant debut as the film speaks for itself. The filmmaker has stated as his hope that the movie will find its own audience. Those who opt out will miss out, as they will be depriving themselves of a great opportunity to see how Nigerian cinema is evolving.