Film Review: Shit and the Deadly Sin of Ojukokoro

The opening of Ojukokoro (Yoruba word for Greed) is full of shit. This is not in the sense that it is useless and not worth the viewer’s time, but that it fills the screen with faecal matter. Over the course of the film written and directed by Dare Olaitan, those with weak stomachs might be provoked to heave into their popcorn bags. It appears like the film is making a point tied to its title: if you’re greedy, guilty of one of the seven deadly sins, you’ll eat shit, go to the loo and shit your intestines out, and then eventually die. But the film’s creators are too smart for such dogmatic tripe.

Ojukokoro is structured around three interconnecting stories: the search for the  kidnapped wife of a politician named Jubril (Ali Nuhu), the attempt of his friend Andrew (Charles Etubiebi) to steal the money made at Lubicon, the filling station he manages, and the gambling-fueled dilemma of  Monday (Seun Ajayi), an attendant at Lubicon. There’s another plot line that concerns Sunday (Tope Tedela), Monday’s coworker, but it’s too thin to be considered a major thread in the weaving of the plot. Andrew, Monday, and Sunday are joined on the staff of the filling station by an hallucinating accountant (Emmanuel Ikubese) and two guards played by comedians Bollylomo and Saka (Hafiz Oyetoro).

Ojukokoro has drawn comparisons to Quentin Tarantino movies, and rightly so. It is shot in tight close-ups that often include two characters in conversation. This is similar to the style favored by Tarantino in movies like Pulp Fiction. But the style isn't copied mindlessly. The exclusion of surrounding details from the view of the audience leads to a heightened sense of foreboding, because the violence in the movie—again achieved in a manner similar to Tarantino’s love of gore—suggests to the viewer that anything can happen. 

The brilliant conversations in Quentin Tarantino films are often digressions, attempts to trivialize the dramatic implications of the events around them, but the conversations in Ojukokoro, equally tight, are more invested in the story. Ojukokoro is very plot driven, with every detail important to the narrative. The director even reverses the timeline to reveal details missing in different points of view of the viewer, a slight departure from Tarantino's style. Some characters are 'wasted', thanks to Mad Dog Max (Wale Ojo), but not frivolously like they are in Tarantino's movies like Pulp Fiction.

Shawn Faqua and Sammie Eddie (left) in Dare Olaitan's Ojukokoro from a scene reminiscent of Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction

Ojukokoro also pays homage to one of Nollywood’s fantastic tropes through the accountant’s drug-induced visions. The last time anyone did this successfully was Kunle Afolayan in The Figurine. But where that was done earnestly, leading to an ending shrouded in mystery, Dare Olaitan plays the trope just for laughs. This comic effect is perhaps the easiest way to reference Nollywood’s idiosyncrasies without being corny.

Ojukokoro's cast bring just enough to their roles to achieve the film's high-wire blend of action, comedy and thriller. The film has good actors in minor roles that do not maximise their abilities, but that is what happens when a cast is filled with actors like Aderupoko (Kayode Olaiya), a fantastic comic whose talents are wasted in his role as a glorified extra, and Somkhele Idhalama, who plays Sade the Politician's wife, grunting and thrashing through her time on screen that undersells her dramatic chops as revealed in the web series Gidi Up. 

Ojukokoro is also high on testoteorne. The acting ensemble features five women, all in minor roles, and two eliminated before the film ends. This is emblematic of the kind of male fantasy that pervades single player action/adventure games where the bikini-clad women only exist to be thrown out of cars and shot in the head. Analysing Nigerian cultural productions like Ojukokoro with an eye on representation might be awkward, but this remains necessary. Filmmakers might argue that they are just reflecting society, or working with the talents at their disposal, but they are still going to be held responsible for not doing enough in the handling stereotypes and narratives that do not pass muster in today's progressive cultures.

Somkele Idhalama as Sade in Ojukokoro. Source: Bellanaija.com

Casting shortcomings aside, the dialogue in Ojukokoro is one of its ultimate delights. It is a mixture of languages native to Nigeria, like the Hausa spoken in the beginning between Jibril and Andrew, the crisp English, which Andrew often resorts to when speaking with his fellow workers, the mainstream pidgin spoken by Sunday and Monday in their exchange in the filling station, and the more slangy version spoken by Rambo (Shawn Faqua) and DJ (Sammie Eddie). They are different, but all Nigerian in their differences.

The triumph of that language also signals one of Ojukokoro's weaker parts. As the film's plot ramps up, it attempts to establish a backstory for Sunday in hopes of making him pivotal to the final scenes. He is shown with his wife, Bose (Zainab Balogun), in a bedroom scene that serves to confirm the suspicion of the audience about Sunday's identity. But the conversation is done in a Yoruba that is so stilted it feels out of place in the perfection of the other parts of the film. 

To make Ojukokoro work, a lot is surrendered to the kind of serendipity that can only work when your audience buys into the fantasy you’re creating. And all but the most cynical viewer would buy into Ojukokoro's premise. Even after the opening frame is revealed to be a MacGuffin, the viewer, if she's still in the cinema, remains a believer in Dare Olaitan's story. That bedroom scene is however the beginning of, one suspects, his inability to trust the audience. 

If the ending were left entirely open, one might argue that he is going for a cliff-hanger. But by explaining the destination of the money that ties the characters together while refusing to tie up the plot's loose ends, the movie half-heatedly hangs on that cliff. The producers must have grabbed the script at the last minute and realised they'll need an excuse to say "Watchout for part 2" without spelling it out like like they used to in Nollywood of old. 

Ojukokoro is excellent. This is even more impressive once that fact that it is Dare Olaitan's directorial debut is taken into account. Many have declared it the best Nigerian movie to be made this year. Perhaps this prophecy will be fulfilled when the award season comes and films are made to stand in judgement. But Ojukokoro's achievement in technique, acting, and language makes its ending feel like a cardinal sin that shouldn't be overlooked at the pearly gates of criticism. The ‘shit’ of the movie’s opening is a noun that describes objects in the scene, but it becomes an adjective as the film ends, qualifying a needless post-credit scene that soils an otherwise well-executed movie.

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