When I last watched Lateef Adedimeji(The Griot), he was playing the role of Lakunle, an unspoken and shy but creative and intelligent storyteller. He struggled to find the right strings of words that would convey his emotional attachment to Tiwa (Goodness Emmanuel), the fright that held his tongue captive delayed his position of admiration in his village —as a storyteller, and as the soulmate of Tiwa. In Adedimeji’s recent outing in Strangers —where Adedimeji plays a frontal role, there are threads of similarities between The Griot and Strangers.
Strangers like The Griot is set in a village far from the bedlam of modernity and Adetola(the young Adedimeji in Strangers) spoke few words. This time, this absence of words wasn’t influenced by fright, it was dictated by his absence of understanding English sentences. Strangers signal Adedimeji’s dynamism as an actor.
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However, as much as the film’s promotional image —with Lateef Adedimeji and Debby Felix in a cordial emotional embrace — and this introductory paragraph will make you believe, the film’s real star is young Adetola played effortlessly by Daniel Bogunmbe. This isn’t to douse down the performance of Adedimeji and another adult cast in the film most notably Bimbo Oshin who embodied the meaning of motherhood in her detailed care and attention to young Adetola. But, it’s to give due diligence to the performance of Daniel Bogunme whose performance sets the tone for the film’s success.
For friends familiar with my private thoughts, I have always been a subtle and unspoken advocate for the casting and telling of more children-related stories in mainstream Nollywood. The Salvador-Calvo-directed Adu converted me into a staunch believer in the effectiveness of child actors. Although I have nursed the intention of writing a prose-length piece on the importance of child actors in Nollywood, I have been unable to. With child actors like Daniel Bogunmbe, the fast-rising Darasimi Nadi (Obara’m, Broken Mask), Angel Unigwe (Here Love Lies, Three Thieves), and Jasmine Fakunle (Oga Bolaji), it becomes important to acknowledge the effects these child actors have when they are cast in a Nollywood production. One of the most appealing and intimate scenes of the film is set at the river. This scene aside from housing the naive innocence and effortless performance of four children sharing their life ambitions poses as the turning point for Adetola’s life and in turn the film’s.
Strangers track the life of Adetola from his childhood to adulthood. Within the pace of almost two decades, we were inundated with how Adetola moved from a vibrant and active part of his family to a bedridden kid. The sickness that ravaged his body “Buruli Ulcer” in the words of one of his doctors who later became his foster father is ” the third most common disease after leprosy and tuberculosis.” Gradually, through the help of an unknown Dr Kylie — a European, obviously, Adetola’s bedridden posture was changed by effective medical care.
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A striking aspect of the movie which might not be obvious is the use of subtleness and unjudgemental gaze. The futility of Adetola’s grandfather’s(Peter Fatomilola) traditional medicine wasn’t treated with scorn or defeat. It wasn’t seen as a triumph of modern medicine over traditional ways. Contrary to expectations, there exists a non-conflicting relationship between the village “witch doctor” — Adetola’s grandfather and pastor Johnson (Taiwo Ibikunle). Adetola’s mother, though an adherent to traditional religion, occasionally calls unto the Christian deity for help. The absence of hospitals and schools in the Ireti village didn’t signal their backwardness. The film cinematographers, Oladapo Abiola and Lawrence Morgan in their aerial landscape shots captured not the depilation of the village but rather its beauty. The image is reminiscent of one of the often-quoted Rumi’s quotes ” where there is ruin, there is hope for a treasure.”
For Adetola and the Ireti community, education poses to be the hope — their possible treasure out of the ruin. The stranger is a compelling story about the place of dreams, unsolicited assistance, and love. Within its lifespan, the film, once again, proves the importance of telling traditional-incline stories written in the Nigerian language.
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Director: Biodun Stephens.
Cast: Daniel Bogumbe, Lateef Adedimeji, Peter Fatomilola, Bimbo Oshin.
D.O.P: Oladapo Abiola and Lawrence Morgan.