You know that sinking feeling in your stomach when you don’t agree with the elite consensus?
Yeah we felt that after watching ’76. Because we desperately wanted to like it. Came in excited to like it. We had heard everyone we respect confess to loving it. And then there is our admiration for the grit of Izu Ojukwu.
Alas. We fear groupthink in the matter of this movie that opened AFRIFF and is presently in the cinemas.
First, it is important to note the following:
‘76 is not – at all – a bad film.
It is not a not a careless film,
And it is not a thoughtless film.
It deserves to be respected – on scale of ambition, effort and deliberation. Unfortunately, execution is where it falters.
As a period drama, it’s the most successful Nigerian project yet. Which is not saying much, as you know. We have not done anything that even looks like period dramas. And to shine only when compared only to the standards of a largely mediocre space is not the stuff of legend. Still, the careful attention to set, to costume and to affect is both tribute to the ageless Pat Nebo as to the serious-mindedness of this film’s director. It is a beauty to watch and a priceless gift to Nigeria’s rare-to-curate history.
And the music is a delight – coursing through Nigeria’s greats: Rex Lawson, Bongus Ikwue, Victor Uwaifo Nelli Uchendu, Nico Mbarga and Fela Anikulapo-Kuti.
Unfortunately, it appeared they were too enamored with their achievements with these that, not only they not let us forget it, but it began to interrupt with everyone else – producing an altogether stilted experience.
In addition to being overly long, the entire movie was ponderous and overwrought.
The scripting is pretentious and belaboured (for instance: the whole interaction between Rita Dominic and her father seemed more about showing her effortlessly speaking Igbo through achingly useless repetitive dialogue than any actual purpose that propelled the story).
There’s also the issue of competing storylines. ’76, commendably, attempts to tell two stories: the love story between Nouah and Dominic’s characters, and then the serious political thriller which focuses mainly on the war. Both stories work fine, on their own – Nouah and Dominic as the couple who endure all to save their marriage and start a family are just as successfully portrayed as the story of Nigerian soldiers who attempt and fail to seize power from the government of the day. However, both threads don’t always sit perfectly together, and perhaps a few more drafts of the script would have found a way to execute a more seamless marriage into one story.
Reviewer after reviewer has come for Ibinabo Fiberesima, but it almost seems as if we are using our earlier consensus about the terrible acting of the women to avoid saying what we really need to say: the acting in ’76 is poor.
At its best, the acting is mechanical, even comical: it has the feeling of a period play in acting-school: altogether trying too hard. The interrogating police officer on the matter of Ramsey Noah for instance seemed like he could be a good actor, but somehow the director needed him to exaggerate emotions of anger, or deceit or happiness.
Noah and Dominic are excellent actors, as we have seen from Figurine and The Meeting respectively. So of course they stand out here. But they are muted. This is not their best. This is also not their worst. It’s just somewhere hung in the middle, where the director decided to suspend and waste their talent.
But they were bright lights. Everywhere else, we were assailed with bad acting. Aunty Mary for instance had acting so bad we have to wonder why no one is mentioning it. Seriously? Dominic’s brother is a joke. Her neighbour is a caricature. Chidi Mokeme is over-dramatic. The random army officers are simply bad.
Daniel K Daniel and Tari Williams are excellent – unfortunately, they are limited in scenes, surrendering the rest of the film to mediocrity.
There is a lot to be impressed by in ’76. Unfortunately there is a lot more to be disappointed by.
And that is asides the dissatisfying stench of revisionist history.
On a scale of 1 to Last King of Scotland, we can only give this well-intentioned film a 5.