There was a time when it was considered a big deal for Nollywood stars and producers to make the trip to foreign lands to shoot films. As budgets got bigger and the films began to score healthier profits, this was considered a natural evolution. By the time Nigerians based abroad – either through the help of the Royal Arts Academy or under the banner of the Nollywood-USA initiative decided to get in on the action with vanity products that went nowhere fast, the novelty began to wear off.
These films often had a certain low-budget visual aesthetic characterised by claustrophobic sets and poorly lit rooms as their various plotlines converged around the immigrant experience. It soon became clear that they were for the most part, no better than films made back home. A subset of this genre began to emerge, actors producing their own films and casting themselves in lead roles as a way of breaking into the film industry.
Amara, the latest film directed by veteran Bond Emeruwa (Daisy, Mortal Inheritance), shot in Lagos and Switzerland, is one of those films. Produced by Joe Aihende, and Jennifer Mulinde-Schmid, an actress with roots in Kenya, Germany and Switzerland- not Nigerian- who is also cast in the lead role. Because why not?
With credits in German film and TV, Mulinde-Schmid has not the heft nor capacity to take on the titular role. But it is her film after all and what is that thing they say about putting money where the mouth is?
Getting into the business is hard enough for citizens and established stars equally find it difficult staying afloat. Omotola Jalade-Ekeinde went away for three years before she could find a project as flawed as Alter Ego. Genevieve Nnaji, super bankable as she is, has resorted to producing her own films. Who can blame Mulinde-Schmid for being the captain of her fate and investing in the local industry while at it?
No one that’s who.
But it is fair game to demand that she invest enough into convincing audiences of the reliability of their craft. She is after all in the business of make-believe. While blessed with an appealing presence that is easy on the eye, Mulinde-Schmid fails to back it up with a performance worth writing home about. Her face is almost devoid of any convincing physical expression for most of the film’s running time and when the waterworks come on towards the final act, she falls back on them eagerly.
Amara is an early career banker navigating Lagos living with her friends/colleagues. She accompanies her friend on a lunch date and meets Nnamdi (Anthony Monjaro) a resident of Switzerland who has returned home briefly. In his early forties and divorced from his Caucasian wife and mother of his son, for reasons the film does not specify, Nnamdi rebuffs all his mother’s efforts to find him a nice local girl.
Sparks fly between Amara and Nnamdi – although Monjaro is the one doing most of the work to believably express this attraction – and before long he proposes. She says yes, partly because she loves him, and partly because she does not want to end up like her aunt; fifty-five, unmarried and bitter. They move to Switzerland.
Written by Joe Aihende and Victoria Aluta, it is hard to get excited about Amara. It is basically straight to video fare, dialogue-heavy and does not employ any big ideas, or latest trends in the technical department. The camera work is competently done, favouring close up shots especially for scenes involving the heroine. A heavy portion of the film is shot in the Swiss suburbia apartment that Amara and Nnamdi share and it is only when they step out for some exterior business that the film seems to breathe.
On arriving Switzerland, Amara soon finds that life isn’t greener on the other side of the world. Difficulties in getting a white-collar job, and her refusal to consider menial jobs on account of her two years banking experience acquired in Lagos, Nigeria, compounded by the mounting utility bills force a strain on the young marriage. Nnamdi’s ex-wife lurks in the background with an agenda of her own. Things get to a head and Amara starts to question her entire existence.
The film is a journey into the life of the titular character but by the closing credits, there is no justification for asking audiences to go on this journey with Amara. The character isn’t written to be interesting or engaging and Mulinde-Schmid’s performance of it isn’t compelling. The pacing is measured, slow maybe and maintains a plateau for the entire running time such that the film doesn’t end as much as it tapers off.
Amara has been described by Emeruwa as a labour of love, taking six years to complete. Reasons for this are perfectly understandable. Sitting through it doesn’t have to be laborious though. There really is no excuse for boring.