Eyimofe is the moving, contemporary, Lagos-set debut feature by twin brothers Arie and Chuko Esiri.
Staying Aliveby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Eyimofe is the naturalistically told stories of two people trying to achieve their dream to migrate to Europe amid the inequalities and chaos of Lagos, Nigeria’s vibrant, densely populated commercial capital of around nine million people. The Esiri brothers’ feel for the city and the decisions of its inhabitants brings to mind a more human version of the Safdie brothers’ manic New York.
The first person we meet is sympathetic Mofe (Jude Akuwudike), a kindly, hard-working electrician, forever fixing the exhausted wiring in the factory he works in, where the uncaring management simply call out for him as ‘Engineer!” At night he works as a security guard. He lives in a cramped flat in the poorer part of Lagos with his younger sister and her three young sons. He obtains his passport with a new name, Sanchez, for his longed-for emigration to Spain. Then a tragedy strikes, which means big bills of all kinds – medical and legal, eating up the money he saved for his travel – with a consequent Kafka-esque entanglement in layers of bureaucracy. A decent man, he patiently and uncomplainingly shoulders all these responsibilities at great personal cost.
In the second story, Rosa (newcomer Temi Ami-Williams) too wants to emigrate to Europe, this time Italy, with her school-age younger sister Grace (Cynthia Ebijie). She works two jobs, in a hairdresser’s and a bar, yet she still doesn’t earn enough to pay the rent of her run-down room to her sexually predatory landlord Mr Vincent (Toyin Oshinaike). She strikes up a potentially life-changing relationship with an American, Peter (Jacob Alexander). Through him she sees how the well-off other half live in Lagos, though she doesn’t hear them joking about the routine demands for money they assume are spurious that they receive from people like her. Rosa strikes a morally questionable bargain with Mama Esther (a scene-stealing cameo by Nigerian comedian Chioma Omeruah) to get that coveted visa, but once again disaster strikes and her meagre finances are drained dealing with it.
The two stories intersect briefly and tangentially, but the point is not that they should interweave. Each stands independently as a testament to a life lived: the impossible-to-deny family ties that bind Mofe and Rosa, lost opportunities, crippling debt and the rampant raw capitalism that defines every human relationship. The sights and sounds of the crowded city as the protagonists walk though its alleyways and markets are evoked so strongly that you can almost smell it. Yet against this unique background, the truth of Mofe and Rosa’s financial and emotional suffering and the compromises they have to make is human and universal.
Forget Nollywood, think Bicycle Thieves in this deeply moving slice of contemporary Lagos life: the Esiri brothers say their inspiration was James Joyce’s Dubliners. The brothers studied fine art, screenwriting and directing in the UK and US and previously made a short film, Goose. I look forward to seeing more from them.
Eyimofe (This is My Desire) premiered at the Berlinale and screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 11 October 2020 during Black History Month and the 60th anniversary of Nigerian independence.