An African Wedding in Rome
by Ben Oduwole
Nollywood on the Tiber
Presented at the previous edition of the RIFF in the section New Frontiers, An African Wedding in Rome is a medium length feature fiction (55’); written, produced and directed by Ben Oduwole, a 57 year old distinct Nigerian gentleman who has been living in Rome for years. He is a photographer by vocation but he writes children’s books for pleasure, (he published The Flying Tortoise in 2009) and is evidently a filmmaker. If we are only writing about it now it’s because, it was by pure chance that we found the DVD copy of the film, on sale in a bookshop specialized on movies. At this point the problem is to agree on what standard to adopt for reviewing this film. Honestly speaking, the essential reason we are considering it is that An African wedding in Rome, at least according to our knowledge, represents probably the first example of an audiovisual production made by a Nigerian director in Italy, or at least the first that had in a way or other a form of diffusion outside the circuit of the community.
But let us begin with the plot. A very flimsy storyline is interlaced with events of a young Nigerian couple in Rome, Oliver and Rose, who are to be united in matrimony. Once the hall has been booked and secured from an Italian, they part and say goodbye to single lives respectively. The men are in an apartment talking and drinking, the women are by the swimming pool singing, but the unexpected is lurching around the corner in a form of a surprise: Oliver’s friends had organized a white call girl for him. Oliver resists the temptation and is about to send the girl away when, exactly at that moment, Rose - whom we catch a glimpse of in the wardrobe - appears unexpectedly. The day later, after waiting for a long time together with the guests, Oliver goes to find an upset Rose at a friend’s house and they have a discussion to clarify things. Now everything is in order, we can start with the ceremony, African style, complete with officiant that illustrates the meaning of marriage, from food to symbolic objects. And then a drive through Rome and a long flashback for those who were probably distracted. Or fallen asleep.
An African Wedding in Rome allows us to say a few things about the success of Nollywood films; the Nigerian audiovisual straight-to-DVD industry that produces thousands of titles a year and provides bread for tens of thousands of people – including actors, directors and technicians. It absolutely does not make sense to evaluate this film, like all the other Nollywoodian productions, applying the analysis criteria – aesthetics, symbolism, style – that we usually adopt for a film made for cinema houses. First of all because these films, shot with video cameras, amateurish, with a ridiculously low budget, and actors who are mostly non professional, are directed mainly at the audience of the director’s country of birth. The fact that they have had a global success, testifies a need of representation that, when looking at it critically, is a sign of huge vitality and resistance towards the invasion of stories and images that Africa is subjected to, with a pronounced passivity from organisers, for over a century. The Nigerian model functions. And it has been progressively exported to Ghana, Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and other countries and other communities, like the amazigh.
Maybe we should reconsider, in this perspective, Sembene Ousmane’s choices of style in Faat Kine (2000) and Souleymane Cissé in Min ye (2009). It’s not by chance that Cissé has for years been running a festival in the village of Nyamina, where the protagonists are the young video makers of the area who make a living by shooting wedding ceremonies. Maybe we have to start accepting the fact that more and more, by giving voice to the primary requisite, like food and water, that is, the self-representation (or, more appropriately, self-narration), these directors, in various regions of Africa, produce films with makeshift scripts that have nothing to do with, not only the programmers of festivals, but also with the taste of western audiences. In this sense, I think that An African Wedding in Rome, with all its apparent fragility, represents an important sign for those, like us, who follow the intercultural dynamics in our country, as it shows in some way that the Nigerian community in Rome is aware of the need to be visible, through audio visual resources as well.
A look at the trailer on Youtube by the director is enough to give you an idea about the film, on the level of the rhetoric of the images. The narrative and figurative models are borrowed from the sit-com, but the visual setting and editing scans are really taken from wedding ceremony films. Nevertheless, it is surely of interest to note that the technical functions (photography, editing, music) of the film were entrusted to Italian technicians: a special mention goes to the soundtrack, made of songs whose lyrics were written by the director himself.
It will be interesting to start a socio symbolic analysis in the signs that are put to play, through word or non verbal language, for example, in the representation of relationships of this kind. In the dynamics of the surprise party, a subtext insists – denouncing the dangers – of the temptation that the white woman represents to an African man, more so if well integrated, removing, on the other hand, any hypothetical attraction of an African woman to a white man. The happy ending is set in an absolutely informative image of this microsociety, open to the presence of Italians and members of other communities, is dominated by a system of values that seamlessly incorporates catholic imagery and African Symbols.
All that remains is the hope that An African Wedding in Rome opens a new way for the birth of Nollywood on Tibur.
Leonardo De Franceschi
Translated into English by Lerato Phiri
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