“Fifty” follows four African female lead characters into a riveting exploration of life’s paradoxes; love and lust, faith and logic, power and vulnerability, wisdom and youth, all culminated against the tropically insatiable backdrop of Africa’s fastest growing city, Lagos, Nigeria.
After being shortlisted in the ‘Love Category’ of the prestigious BFI London film festival, themed rather befittingly as “The Year of the Strong Woman,” those expecting a traditional love story will be challenged by Biyi Bandele’s comparison of love as a playful frivolity in a society where divorce is traditionally crowned as the pit of a woman’s achievements.
Tola (Dakore Egbuson) is the neurotic protagonist avidly preparing for her 50th birthday party, as a distraction to her philandering husband (Wale Ojo) and a living reminder of a burdening family secret. Her intended nemesis, Maria (Omoni Oboli) struggles to handle executive board meetings at her construction firm with a seemingly unwanted surprise pregnancy. No prizes for guessing who the father is. Kate (Nse Ikpe-Etim) obsessively turns to God whilst her marriage is perilously surviving on late night vigils, prayerful fasts and a terrifying health condition. Then comes, Elizabeth, delightfully portrayed by Ireti Doyle, who takes her job as a leading gynaecologist personally, ensuring she gets thorough examinations from male’s half her age, to the detriment of her producer daughter.
Mo Abudu’s debut production sun dries the insistent female anxiety that follows those words; thirty and then fifty. No final nail is impended over the character’s careers, creativity or sex lives; instead a celebration of continuing rebirth and ‘knowing thyself’ whilst dodging all the blows of life, even if they come in the form of your daughter’s boyfriend.
“Fifty” is as scandalously playful and sexy as it promises, but it also channels controversially relevant issues to the fore such as inter-familial abuse, religious faith vs logic argument and divorce.
The anti-climaxal handling of Tola’s burdening family secret may leave you wanting, as may the pace of proceedings, but the unapologetic manner in which “Fifty” exposes the different relational facets of sex are to be applauded. The repressive tentativeness with which the subject has been caged, is bravely being unlocked in different mediums of African art, more-so African cinema and entertainment. “Fifty’s” storyline perches heavy duty topics of controversy unto the laps of its audience to be admired, unwrapped and utilized to encourage debate and most importantly, change. The conversation about safe sex education and sexual abuse in the great continent is one that needs to be addressed, not muted to child-bearing purposes alone.
Unwrapping controversy aside, the casting of the female leads brings each role to life, expected, as they are also heavyweights in their own right within the African film industry, whilst the supporting cast ensure the feasibility of the storyline.
The crown jewel of “Fifty” is the elegance of Abudu’s production teamed with the evocative filming of Malcolm McClean. Lagos is feted as a plethora of wealth, bountiful colours and rich culture immersed in vibrant art, Fela-inspired Afrobeat music (cameo appearances from legends Femi Kuti, King Sunny Ade and hip-hop soulstress Nneka to name a few), fashion and modern architecture.
No violence, coups or corruption rigged governments in sight.
This is the Africa Hollywood doesn’t want you to see; a picturesque feast of African cinema and a joyful reminder that life is indeed full of paradoxes; none more so than celebrating the 20th anniversary of your 30th birthday.
Verdict: 3 Stars.
Jilo Katter is a freelance journalist & independent film critic. On Twitter @This_is_Jilo.