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“Áfàméfùnà” Review: Kayode Kasum’s Heartfelt Love Letter to Igbo Enterprise Could Use Better Structuring

“Áfàméfùnà” Review: Kayode Kasum’s Heartfelt Love Letter to Igbo Enterprise Could Use Better Structuring

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One begins to get a sense that Áfàméfùnà has not been structured properly. Its focus on the beauty of the apprenticeship system, and its ode to Igbo resilience have overshadowed what other themes it takes upon itself.

By Victory Hayzard Solum

It’s party time. Chief Afamefuna (Stan Nze) is overseeing the funeral remembrance of his long-dead father when the police, led by the trilingual ASP Gidado Shehu (Segun Arinze), barge in and invite him to the station for questioning. The police have followed his lavish lifestyle on social media as a man of means. The late celebration of his father says he was not always so. The police also have evidence of him being in cahoots with certain undesirable elements of society. Now, with his friend and long-time associate, Paulo (Alex Ekubo), having been found murdered, Afamefuna must account for his new found positioning, with a clear-cut explanation of the events. What follows is a love letter to the Igbo apprenticeship system and their business enterprise in Kayode Kasum‘s 2023 drama, Áfàméfùnà: An Nwa Boi Story.

We are clued in by some opening text from the Harvard Business Review that the Igbo Apprenticeship System has been recognised as the world’s largest business incubator, seeing the establishment of thousands of business ventures yearly, in what is now known as Stakeholder Capitalism. Taking us on an exploratory journey of how this model operates, we see the young Afamefuna (Paul Nnadiekwe) brought into Lagos by his mother to serve as an apprentice or Nwa Boi to Chief Odogwu (Kanayo O. Kanayo), a reputable businessman from their hometown. The simple understanding, as explained later, is that after serving his master faithfully for a term of years, his master will help establish him in a business of his own, in what is understood as a settlement.

Young Afam glides under the charge and influence of Paulo (Chidera David), Chief Odogwu’s young and boisterous market overseer. It is he who puts Afam through understanding the rigours of business and taking on the Lagos life. Theirs is like the bond of an elder to a younger sibling in a house full of children. Paulo must cater to the well-being of them all, including Obum (Chuks Joseph), Afam’s more street wise and self-centred counterpart. It is through a clash with Obum, for instance, that Afam learns of apiriko, a practice where young apprentices inflate the price of their bosses’s goods, in the hopes of making extra cash for themselves. As Odogwu explains to Afam, apiriko is not exactly an outrageous practice, but Obum’s endeavours are an obvious indication of greed.

Afamefuna - Review - Afrocritik

Most stories require a love angle, and Áfàméfùnà is not long gone before it introduces ours. Chief Odogwu has a young pretty daughter, Amaka (Chisom Oguike), one with whom Afam is immediately smitten. But he cannot make his move on her. The smooth-tongued and jovial Paulo is already hooked up with her. For the main, Amaka seems to see Afam as just one of her father’s young helpers, albeit one deserving of respect for his devotion. Imagine ASP Gidado’s surprise when he learns that she is now, in fact, Afam’s present day wife.

Áfàméfùnà runs an interesting gamble of taking you on a long journey through the lives of these young people, while also cutting to the present occasionally to remind us this is still a murder investigation. As such, other insights may be required, such as when the questioning is transferred to Amaka’s side of things. But in its bid to stick to a decidedly linear narrative of Afam’s development, it sacrifices the urgency required to carry on an engaging investigation. Make no mistake, the film is in itself quite captivating in its devotion to its characters and their growth. However, despite being cut and edited as though in response to the investigators’ questions, the long narrative sequences that follow are rarely ever straight to the point.

Is it possibly the love of their boss’s daughter that has caused a rift in the friendship of these two young men? ASP Gigado is not out of bounds speculating that perhaps, Amaka has carried on an affair with her ex-lover, leading thus to his death at the hands of her husband. We are stuck with speculations of this kind, right up till the revelation is finally made – and its impact is quite staggering.

Still from Afamefuna - Afrocritik
Still from Áfàméfùnà

The now adult Paulo feels wronged, and for some justifiable reasons. The moment of this revelation shows Ekubo in perhaps the most riveting portrayal of his acting career, and his declaration of the end of their brotherhood will leave a hollow in the pit of your stomach.

Afamefuna: A Nwa Boi Story - review - Afrocritik

However, everything which follows from this point pales in comparison to what has come before, not because the acting lags or anything of that sort. We are instead introduced to new themes which, however interesting, pack less of a punch than they would ordinarily have if revealed earlier.

One begins to get a sense that Áfàméfùnà has not been structured properly. Its focus on the beauty of the apprenticeship system, and its ode to Igbo resilience have overshadowed what other themes it takes upon itself. Afam has succeeded with an overabundance of grace from his life of devotion, but there are prices to pay, some of them having a resonance in the real-life wider world. A much earlier foreshadowing of these prices would have given a more rounded base to the story, a base without which some things appear to stand without reason.

It is not clear, for instance, why Afam would go to the lengths he does in trying to save Paulo from his financial troubles. We have seen the rift and distance between them. Whatever emotional impact their reconnection would have had is lost when the film settles for telling instead of showing. But even with all this established, it beggars belief that mere guilt would warrant Afam’s suffering of Paulo’s insults and threats. What hold does the latter have over him? Right up till Afam carries out certain investigations of his own, his willingness to go along with Paulo’s blackmail stands in need of an explanation which never comes.

There is Amaka (Atlanta Bridget Johnson) to consider, of course. Now very much an adult, her connection with the two men has borne certain fruits, one of which is a widely reported malaise in real life. Perhaps a narrative with shifting perspectives might have helped provide insight or speculations on the feminine experience of these things. But with Áfàméfùnà content with casting her in the light of the mild-mannered lover in whom there is no guile, she has very little to offer us in the manner of an emotional or psychological journey. We know Paulo is something of a selfish lover. We know his joviality keeps him from reacting with much seriousness to most issues until he is hurt. But Amaka seems content to stick with him until the better-established Afam comes calling with his interests, causing a shift in her loyalty, with no prior hints whatsoever of her growing affection. And because the pocked hand of consequence strikes too late, we never get a window into her internal contemplations.

Afamefuna - Review - Afrocritik
Atlanta Bridget Johnson

Less concerning than the film’s structuring problems is the way it glosses over certain issues it sets up without proper resolution. Much earlier in the film, Nneka, Chief Odogwu’s niece on holiday from overseas, asks why there are only men and no women in his shop, and Chief Odogwu responds that the Nwa Boi system does not admit women. But the restatement of a premise is no answer. If a proper investigation was never intended, why was it brought up at all? However, because the film is focused on depiction rather than explanation, Nneka disappears along with her question for the rest of the film. And there is much that happens in this manner. Áfàméfùnà will show you a well-known practice amongst Igbo business people, but, perhaps in the protection of trade secrets, will never venture into exploring why it is so or just how it works beyond casual observation. Perhaps because of this, or perhaps in the film’s bid to protect Afam’s reputation for honesty, we never do find out if he eventually learns the true nature of apiriko, its potential economic merits, or why it is not categorised as an outright wrong.

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These issues regardless, Áfàméfùnà is a beauty of a movie. With its wholesome theme and amazing cast of characters, it will no doubt resonate with many. Kanayo holds things firmly at the centre, with a heartfelt avuncular portrayal as the fair-dealing Chief Odogwu. It is even more poignant that he is cast in this positive rendition of Igbo enterprise, when one considers blood money ritual films like Billionaire’s Club, as the mainstay of his acting career.

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Nze’s measured acting breathes life into Afam, a beautiful man, heavy on grace and generosity like his master, withholding wrath in a self-assured restraint. And Nnadiekwe more than imbues the young Afam with innocence and relatability as he navigates the course of his transition from the naive village boy to a capable business handler, under the tutelage of David’s young Paulo whose perpetual airs of geniality will have you smiling for the better part of the movie.

Written by Anyanwu Sandra Adaora, and produced by Lawumi Fajemirokun and Kenechukwu Egbue, Kasum’s Áfàméfùnà gives an Igbo answer to the question of how a man with very little education might attain much wealth and social acclaim without sullying his hands. It all but celebrates the Igbo language, and records the passage of time in subtle touches of make-up and costuming. But Áfàméfùnà’s true gift is its treatment of the frictions belying the pursuit of our human endeavours, and, without ever sliding into the miry waters of didacticism, will hold your heartstrings in a vicelike grip.

Rating: 3.7/5

(Afamefuna is currently streaming on Netflix)

Victory Hayzard Solum is a freelance writer with an irrepressible passion for the cinematic arts. Here he explores the sights, sounds, and magic of the shadow-making medium and their enrichment of the human experience. A longstanding ghostwriter, he may have authored the last bestselling novel you read.

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