Even if the storyline occasionally inspires you to question your cognitive ability through no fault of yours, Here Love Lies will, ultimately, find its audience…
By Seyi Lasisi
The last time I saw a Tope Oshin-directed motion picture, Up North, was in 2018, and Oluwabankole “Banky W” Wellington was steadily building his portfolio as an actor. Trailing the film’s premiere was positive response for its commentary on the situation in the rural Northern part of Nigeria without casting a judgmental glance. To Up North credits, the film was mostly set outside the borders of Lagos in Bauchi.
Five years after, with Here Love Lies, I am seeing another Tope Oshin- directed feature. Now, it was easier for me to detect some tread of similarities between both films. Filmmakers always leave clues in their films that define their filmmaking approach. Kunle Afolayan, aside his non-conventional films: Phone Swap, Mokalik, and Naija Christmas, has created an identity as a connoisseur of Yoruba history. Pat Nebo, the veteran Production Designer, is prolific for his cultural-ladden and epical production design (Crime and Justice Lagos, Arugba, October 1, and ’76). With Tope Oshin, using Up North and Here Love Lies as reference, it’s safe to say that asides her film’s focus on societal issues ranging from social integration and inclusion, Oshin’s films appear as publicity campaign for tourism, with its expansive landscape pictures — which isn’t a bad idea at all.
Geography always plays an important role in Oshin’s motion pictures. In Up North, aside from redirecting the gaze of Nollywood’s audience from Lagos — the conventional setting of Nollywood films — the lead character’s Nigerian Youth Service Corp service year was used to comment on social integration. In Here Love Lies, Port Harcourt, Lagos, and New York City, USA, are the preferred cities for shooting this beautiful film. Oshin’s reliance on tourism to drive her story forward was once again embellished effortlessly into this recent production. The film’s lead characters’ (Amanda and Michael) day job is linked to the exploration and discovery of fanciful landscapes. The numerous tourist hubs which the duo visit are captured by the intimate and distant shots of Daniel Ademinokan. These intimate scenes capture the on-the-surface intimacy between the two budding lovers, and Tope Oshin’s appeal for embedding tourist attraction spots into her films.
Here Love Lies, chronicles the life of Amanda (Tope Oshin), a Reverend’s (Sam Dede) daughter banished from home for an unforgivable sin she commits. The bond between her and her family falls apart after the ex-communication. Now, almost two decades after, the crying and pleading Amanda is now a self-sufficient and independent woman. With Nora (Angel Unigwe), her daughter (the always appealing to watch child actor from Three Thieves), she has erected a sense of order in her life. However, an issue keeps threatening this order. Topping the list of her worries is finding real love. History had taught her that concealing her daughter’s existence is her only chance at marriage. It’s in this frustrating and pitiable situation her virtual stalker, Michael (Tim Shelburne), met her. Courtesy of the pop-up shots — a technique adopted from Up North — bearing messages between Amanda and the anonymous Michael, we catch a glimpse of how the casual and impassionate tone of Amanda’s message ease into one of intimacy and affection. For the constantly-disappointed Amanda, meeting Michael might be her chance at solace.
The film and the ensemble of cast in adherence to the script written by the duo Ayoade Adeyanju and Tope Oshin trifle with grand ideas and genres. The film’s first sequence paid homage to the family drama genre with Sam Dede, Tina Mba, and Stephanie Zibili taking the centre page. Amanda’s banishment from her family will occasionally filter through the screen, but unlike the young Amanda (Omozele Gabriel), she has matured. Thus, whenever the peace and calmness that have settled into her life are threatened by her traumatic past, she closes the shutter of grief and replaces it with a smile. Following closely the family drama genre is the film’s potential as a character study with the lead female character as the focus. Also, Michael’s character arch has the innate potential, albeit late, for a psychological thriller. If the film had been written in parts, the three genres of psychological thriller, family drama, and character study might have worked with ease, but when looked closely at as a single story, it’s headache-inducing to watch. The inexplicable attraction of Michael to Nigerian women that he lures into danger, and other incomprehensible actions, makes the film less appealing to watch.
(Read also: Hey You! Review: Uyoyo Adia’s 18+ Rom-com Almost Ruined by Unresolved Subplots)
Nigerians seem to always be in the loop as scammers. Michael must have been familiar with the potential threat a Nigerian, even one he loves, poses to his hard-earned money. Thus, when he hides his identity from Amanda, he is being deliberate and playing it safe. Rosa (Temi Ami-Williams) in Eyimofe suffers similar subtle accusation from Peter (Jacob Alexander.) TK’s (Catherine Kamau) uncensored commentary against Nigerians in the Pan-African Disconnect: The Wedding Planner was hinged on Nigerians being scammers. Although the pair, Amanda and Michael, are in love, Michael still has to tread carefully.
An interesting aspect of Here Love Lies is its use of music to propel the story forward. From the opening faith-based song which hints at Amanda’s family’s religious affiliation, to the romance-inducing songs littered through the film’s two-hours screentime, to the creepy soundtrack that foreshadows Michael’s horrific acts, and the meditative sound that accompanied Amanda’s reunion with her family, the film’s sound department did careful selection. The same level of deliberateness was put into placing conspicuous clues in Michael’s room — the taxidermies are faint hints of his violent nature. Unfortunately, this level of cautiousness wasn’t extended to the plot development. Everything happens all at once with no motivating backstory to keep the audience convinced of an ongoing action. This inexplicable plot movement indirectly stifles the appealing aura the film’s opening scene exudes.
Once again, the observable disjunct in the storyline recalls this decades-long criticism: the screenwriting is mostly full of problems with its puzzling plot development. Proficient use of technology — particularly editing and cinematography — improves the viewing experience. Still, this proficiency will become inefficient if the story the camera is expected to capture is bland. Yes, Here Love Lies, like other Nollywood films and series (The Plan, Flawsome, Glamour Girls, and Chief Daddy 2), is beautiful to behold, but a pedant who watches the film will more likely be less enthusiastic about its plot. Even if the storyline occasionally inspires you to question your cognitive ability through no fault of yours, Here Love Lies will, ultimately, find its audience.
(Here Love Lies is currently streaming on Netflix)
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: email@example.com.