It can be said, with confidence, that the film boasts of tangible materials, but the same cannot be said of its execution. The film raises social and religious concerns, but hastily discards them before any measured impact is made.
By Seyi Lasisi
Kehinde Bankole, the eponymous character in the Adeoluwa Owu-directed Adire, is one of the most pleasurable actresses to watch in Nollywood. Bankole’s impeccable acting, especially after her laudable performance in Biodun Stephen’s Sista (2022) isn’t buttressed enough. She offers believable performances that cut across the lineup in her filmography: Tainted Canvas (2020), Prophetess (2021) and Blood Sisters (2022), and it becomes easy to regularly sing praises of her acting. There is always a sense of urgency and intimacy that she brings to her roles. And as the titular Adire in FilmOne Entertainment’s debut original, she is not lacking in that depth.
When Adire, written by Jack’enneth Opukeme in collaboration with Mimi Bartels and Stephen Oluboyo begins, we are introduced, through the cinematographer, Emmanuel Igbekele, to the home – a clubhouse – of Asari (Kehinde Bankole). Before our eyes meet Asari, who will eventually become Adire, two men, Captain (Yemi Blaq), Asari’s pimp, and Tega (Ibrahim Chatta) just conclude a mysterious business deal. After their unorthodox business conversation, it was time for pleasure. Asari is called upon to “entertain” Tega. This scene bears to mind how it is normative for women’s bodies to be commodified when bargaining business transactions. When Asari emerges in view, she has a detached countenance and there is a noticeable reluctance in her body movement. She is unwilling to concede to Captain and Tega’s demands, and being uncomfortable with her current state, Asari decides to abscond. As she runs away from Captain’s domain, Asari seeks to explore her lingerie-making enterprises in a town away from the fringes of the city.
After these plot-building scenes, the film segues into a church. This scene is my favourite, and it is not the nostalgic aura of religious rituals that attracts me. It is the way the cinematographer and editor minimally introduce other characters important to the film’s plot structure, and how their traits will help the buildup of the movie. Leading the church is Pastor Mide (Femi Branch) and his wife, Deaconess Folashade (Fulola Aofiyebi), who is not the best at accommodating others — particularly women whom she perceives as a threat to her monopoly of the spotlight. When the eccentric Yewande (Adebola “Lizzy Jay” Adeyela), one of the church members, decides to dance like the biblical David during church service, Deaconess Folashade is quick to curtail her movement. Pastor Mide, unlike his wife, is more accepting of outliers like Adire and Abeni (Onyinye Odokoro). Their contrasting identity subtly reiterates the need to, beyond religious dogmas, be accommodating and compassionate to humans in religious circles. In the church, we are also introduced to a pivotal character, Salewa (Yvonge Jegede), the wife of Tobi (Kelechi Udegbue).
As Adire noticeably arrives in the small community, she quickly earns the attention of the villagers, not only for staying in a haunted house, but also for “snatching” their husbands. Salewa, prior to building a formidable relationship with Adire, is intent on inflicting pain on her for “wrestling” her husband from her grasp. Their relationship attracts more women, but this cordiality, although desirable, is dented. Progressive as it seems, Adire’s basis for empowering these women is aimed at teaching them ways to please their husbands and ward off potential “husband snatchers” with her Adire underwear. Adire becomes a counsellor and her once-boycotted house becomes a social bonding spot where the women come to talk about their family-related issues.
Despite the film’s attempt to explore important social issues, the story feels loose. There are a slew of questions that would have established the plot that the film’s script fails to satisfactorily answer on screen. Whenever Asari filters into focus, one wonders, who is Asari/Adire? what is her story? what is the story behind the Adire lingerie? What is she searching for? Emancipation from her pimp, or the freedom to express herself without being sabotaged? It becomes evident that there is loose attention to Adire’s story. Understandably, Asari opts to sew undergarments in the African print. But, what is unclear is why she decides to take this route in the first place. Even when the film uses flashbacks to establish her backstory, it ends up bland and lacking in information.
Despite how conflicted and troubled Adire appears to be, there is not enough material in the screenplay to allow the audience to actively participate in her story. The audience is kept at bay and is distant in places where intimacy is required. And though we can tell that Adire is conscious of the judgmental gaze on her as a sex worker, the film lacks moments where Adire genuinely introspects about this issue.
There are, however, commendable aspects in the film, one of which is the actors’ performances. Lizzy Jay, whose acting I have never watched with fondness, gives a weighty performance that must have demanded strength. Her characterisation reiterates the need to not just cast certain actors known for their comic-leaning roles solely for comical relief. There is a need to also anchor responsibilities to their character and Adire does this with Lizzy Jay’s character. Udegbue (The Black Book and Mami Wata) again reiterates his range as an actor. Aofiyebi’s smile-deprived countenance and fast-paced dialogue match her role as the unaccommodating Pastor’s wife. In all, the actors gave depictions that fit their character traits.
Still, as invested as the cinematography is in capturing the performance of Bankole as Adire, the screenplay is not as enthusiastic in telling her story. It does, however, dedicate its interest to building Deaconess Folashade’s character arc. There is a lack of coherence in certain areas of the film, but the actors’ performances are passable enough to make for a plausible story. It can be said, with confidence, that the film boasts of tangible materials, but the same cannot be said of its execution. The film raises social and religious concerns but hastily discards them before any measured impact can be made.
(Adire is showing in the cinema)
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. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org