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“A Young Time Ago” Review: Subtle but Visible Misogyny Takes Front Row in the Tolu Lordtanner-Directed Drama

“A Young Time Ago” Review: Subtle but Visible Misogyny Takes Front Row in the Tolu Lordtanner-Directed Drama

A Young Time Ago Afrocritik

The film’s attention is solely placed on the men in these women’s lives and how they react to the assault.  In these films, the actions of these men become the focus…

By Seyi Lasisi

A Young Time Ago, like most of its Nigerian peers catalogued on Prime Video, witnessed no fanfare heralding its coming and eventual presence on the streaming service. Arguably at the epicentre of well-written and fleshed-out Nollywood films – Juju Stories, The Trade, Green White Green, Eyimofe, and Tainted Canvas, the unforgivable silence that surrounds these films is always painful to witness. And in the Tolu Lordtanner-directed feature film, save for the presence of Wale Ojo, Timini Egbuson, and Daniel Etim Effiong on the film’s poster, the sparse marketing made the film obscure. Despite the disservice this silence does to the film, it has an advantage. It tones down expectations and heightens audiences’ curiosity about the film.  This curiosity, beyond anything else, propelled me to watch the film.  

Structurally, the film begins when two strangers – Tayo (Daniel Etim Effiong) and Ukara (Sandra Okunzuwa), decide to trade traumatic stories over drinks. Ukara has been, in her words, “recently served” and needs to drain the accompanying grief from the heartbreak with a strong drink and a potent story. Tayo, who is a restaurant manager, provides these to Ukara, his willing audience. He gives voice to his story and launches the film into the past. There, we meet the young Tayo (played with admiration by Mofehintolaoluwa Jebutu), a bashful university student, struggling to express his romantic desire to Kemi (Tolu Osaile). While aware of Tayo’s unspoken desire, Kemi is unperturbed about it, as much of her concern rests on her music career and meeting with the campus sensation, Magic (Timini Egbuson). Magic, as viewers will infer,  has recorded music with one of the widely accepted musical acts in the country, D’banj. He has a constant presence in the university and is the right channel to help actualise Kemi’s musical ambition. Much to the disgruntled Tayo’s disapproval, Kemi, in a bid to impress Magic with her sonic abilities, attends Magic’s all-night party. 

As is typical of such events, there is excessive drinking, and much to the grunting of neighbours, the music is raised some decibels higher. Lurking around the party venue are two opposing forces – Mr. Gabriel (Wale Ojo), the good guardian angel, and Tall Man (Jola Chills) the agent of evil, who controls the time and affairs of mortals. In their bid to indicate their domineering influence, the force of evil spikes Magic’s drugs. This, the film will have us believe, pushes Magic to sexually assault Kemi. After this tragic incident occurs, the plot of the film becomes tied to the aftermath of the assault. Shadow (Brutus Mfon Richard), the leader of a close-knit cult group who holds grievances against Magic will get a momentary entrance after this incident. 

Knotting a film’s plot details with an upshot of sexual assault is not a rarity in Nollywood. Similar to A Young Time Ago, the Biodun Stephen-directed The Wildflower has a related undertone where three women experience gender-based violence from men in their lives and one defies societal scorn and the urge to keep silent, to call for justice that eventually sends a rapist to jail. Likewise, in Uyoyou Adia’s written and directed Hey You, Bianca (Efe Irele), Abel’s love interest, is sexually harassed by Lanre (Rotimi Salami), who is convinced that there was no wrongdoing. 

The plot of A Young Time Ago is close to Hey You, and they thread a similar pathway in their lip-service attention to the sensitised topic the plots are tied to. In both films, there is sparse on-screen representation of the psychological condition of the assailed women. The film’s attention is solely placed on the men in these women’s lives and how they react to the assault.  In these films, the actions of these men become the focus. Tayo employing Shadow to deal with Magic mirrors Abel confronting Lanre without Bianca’s consent. The sexual assault becomes as an indictment of the men’s bloated ego and manhood, and indirectly these films distance themselves from the women’s point of view. This lack of psychological introspection distances the audience from emotionally connecting with the ladies, and by so doing, the film embraces a faint but vocal patriarchal undertone. While Tayo’s intention in seeking “justice” appears innocent despite Kemi’s expressed desire for none, Tayo shrouds his motive with a saviour complex. 

(Read more: “The Wildflower” Review: Biodun Stephen’s Winning Streak Continues in New Film About Gender-Based Violence)

Another fault line in A Young Time Ago is how it implies that Kemi’s assault is influenced by forces of chaos with the already-established omniscient forces present in the plot. Though in the background, these spiritual forces foster destruction or benevolence on the characters. Their presence ascends an inferred belief that human actions are propelled, not by intention, but by fate. Humans unwillingly adhere to supernatural commands beyond their physical control. The film uses this belief to explain Magic’s non-consensual sexual act, and though it eventually gives Magic a tragic end, it pushes the moral obligation away from him and indirectly instils the belief that the assault is divinely ordained. 

A Young Time Ago Afrocritik

(Read more: “The One For Sarah” Review: The Lyndsey Efejuku-Directed Film Audaciously Traverses Romance and Domestic Violence.)

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There are some admirable aspects sparsely littered around the film. Ojo’s voiceover still maintains the alluring cadence in his voice. Wale Ojo and Brutus Mfon Richard’s acting (the two veterans in the production) embrace the required grace of professionals in the game. Although for some of the lesser-known actors in the film, the acting was slurry and in friction with others, commendable. Osaile’s acting recalls her role in the bildungsroman All Na Vibes, directed by Taiwo Egunjobi. Egbunson’s acting owes to his narcissistic-incline role. The film’s cinematography, at most, is relentless in informing the audience of the beautiful scenery in the film. Aside from the film’s characters’ well-established interests in music, the sonic tapestry of the film is reflective of the constantly-played hits from the 2010s. D’Banj and Lanre “Eldee” Dabiri’s music provides the musical details that entrench the film to its period. The costume and props – the Blackberry phones and bandanas – also entrench the audience to some of the cultural milieu of that fleeting era. For certain viewers, the film will rekindle nostalgic memories of childhood and university days.

Judging from its indie disposition – the plain cinematography and spotlighting of new faces – the film, at best, is a passable watch. The story drags as slowly as a funeral procession. Although the starting and the concluding parts of A Young Time Ago tilt towards being lively, a large part of the film courts a tragic pathway. Due to its rough-edge cinematography, sound, acting, and plot development, the film is tediously hard to watch. And though it boasts of exploring a  sensitive topic, in the end, the movie becomes almost comical.

Rating: 3/5

(A Young Time Ago is currently streaming on Prime Video)

Seyi Lasisi is a Nigerian student with an obsessive interest in Nigerian and African films as an art form. His film criticism aspires to engage the subtle and obvious politics, sentiments, and opinions of the filmmaker to see how it aligns with reality. He tweets @SeyiVortex.

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