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“Strained” Review: Okechukwu Oku’s Film is Simple Yet Sophisticated

“Strained” Review: Okechukwu Oku’s Film is Simple Yet Sophisticated

Strained | Now showing on Netflix | Afrocritik

In its concise runtime, Strained explores a plethora of issues with remarkable finesse, avoiding the pitfalls of preachiness, pedantry, dullness, or melodrama.

By Joseph Jonathan 

Leonardo Da Vinci once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” — a sentiment that has deeply resonated with me, shaping my approach to life. It’s a guiding principle I’ve come to embrace wholeheartedly, finding beauty in the elegance of simplicity. This principle is exemplified in the work of Nigerian director, Okechukwu Oku (BlackRose, Levi), and is particularly evident in his latest Netflix offering, Strained

Oku’s adeptness at keeping his films simple yet impactful echoes the words of artist, Hans Hofmann, who believed that “the ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary, so that the necessary may speak”. While watching Strained, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Hofmann’s wisdom, as Oku masterfully strips away the superfluous, allowing the essence of the story to shine through. In a time often characterised by excessiveness and complexity, Oku’s commitment to simplicity serves as a refreshing reminder of the power of clarity and focus in filmmaking.

With a story by Onyinye Amadi, the film’s plot follows Ebere (Tracey George), a new mother struggling with raising her baby. With nobody else to help when her husband, Ozo (Samuel Nnabuike), has to leave for days due to work, she reluctantly seeks her estranged mother’s help raising the baby. This is at the insistence of her husband who sees it as an opportunity for her to reconnect with her mother, Abigail (Queen Nwokoye) and repair their strained relationship. 

One thing which strikes me about the film is the fact that it is intentional and wastes no time in setting out to achieve what it wants. It avoids the slow buildup that Nollywood is complicit in and establishes its conflict in time, thus giving ample room for its resolution and character development. Perhaps this could also be attributed to the film’s shorter runtime as opposed to a longer one.

Strained | Nollywood movie review| Afrocritik

Despite the runtime, there are a couple of issues which the film tries to address. Through the relationship between Ebere and her mother, we are introduced to the dangers of toxic parenting, which is often a taboo topic that rarely gets representation in cinema and literature. In the case of Abigail, domestic violence makes her abandon Ebere, rendering her incapable of raising her daughter. This neglect is partly responsible for the emotional trauma that the daughter feels and detests  Abigail for. 

With the exploration of domestic violence, Strained sheds light on the drastic consequences it has on individuals and their families. With Abigail, here, it severed her relationship with her daughter. Unfortunately, her abusive husband remarried and continued the cycle of violence with his other wife. Strained also deviates from portraying victims of domestic violence as helpless; it instead makes a genuine effort to empower such affected women. For one, Abigail leaves her husband despite his threats, and it is from this experience that she also advises Ebere’s friend, to leave an abusive relationship.

The film pushes boundaries by challenging traditional gender stereotypes. For instance, Ebere expresses her desire to return to work after giving birth, emphasising that she wouldn’t let go of her professional life regardless of being a mother. In addition, it also highlights the significant role of the husband in caring for their baby (even though he tires towards the end of the film), reflecting the urgent need for societal change.

Another remarkable quality of Strained is its refusal to pass judgment on any of its characters. Rather than taking a moralistic stance, the film adopts a practical, compassionate approach. This conveys the message that while all humans possess flaws, perhaps it is these imperfections that define the beauty of being human. The script exudes empathy towards its characters, ensuring that each one is afforded a nuanced emotional arc, thereby weaving together all loose ends with care and consideration.

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The ensemble cast of Strained delivers noteworthy performances, especially Nwokoye with her portrayal of Ebere’s mother. Her performance is a standout, infusing the character with depth and authenticity. She adeptly navigates the complex internal struggle of a mother who once abandoned her child, grappling with feelings of guilt and seeking redemption through caring for her grandchild. Nwokoye’s portrayal is nuanced, capturing the intricacies of a fractured relationship between mother and daughter, adding layers of emotional depth to the film’s narrative.

Strained| Queen Nwokoye| Nollywood| Afrocritik

In its concise runtime, Strained explores a plethora of issues with remarkable finesse, avoiding the pitfalls of preachiness, pedantry, dullness, or melodrama. Remarkably, it accomplishes this feat with just four main characters and mostly a single setting, yet delivers a compelling narrative brimming with ambition. The film’s allure lies in its simple but robust script, brought to life by authentic performances, and a relatable, everyday story that would resonate with audiences on a personal level. Strained stands as a testament to the power of storytelling stripped down to its essentials, offering an enriching cinematic experience that lingers long after the credits roll.

Rating: 2.9/5

Joseph Jonathan is a historian who seeks to understand how film shapes our cultural identity as a people. He believes that history is more about the future than the past. When he’s not writing about film, you can catch him listening to music or discussing politics. He tweets @JosieJp3.

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