Mami Wata

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Benin’s “Mami Wata” is a black-and-white thriller/fable that is set in the beach community of Iyi. It opens with a nighttime ocean scene. The sound of the pounding waves is almost abstract. The noise of the sea is identical to what you might hear on a beach. Only the bottom portion of the frame is taken up by the water. The remainder is pitch black.

By retaining the visual for a longer period of time than most films do, writer/director C.J. “Fiery” Obasi establishes an atmosphere, followed by a sense of awe and terror. The film consistently does this throughout its duration, never quite presenting an image or scene in the way you anticipate and constantly keeping you wanting more.

 

It is not balanced. You experience a sense of detachment from any prejudices you may have brought with you. A spell is cast by the movie, and that enchantment lasts all the way through.

Men and women who live in “Mami Wata” defy modernity by acting and dressing as though they are still in a bygone era. The goddess of water, wealth, and health in Nigeria who keeps an eye on people’s life is referred to in the title. This society is dominated by women. Mama Efe (Rita Edochie) is the appointed priestess, Mami Wata’s interpreter, and everyone in the village’s adjudicator and problem-solver.

 

Although Mama Efe is strong and well-liked, some of her followers believe that she is losing touch with the goddess or that she is too set in her ways to recognize that the village will only survive if it adjusts to modern life. Zinwe (Uzoamaka Aniunoh), Mama Efe’s original daughter, and Prisca (Evelyne Ily Juhen), her adopted daughter, are both alive today. Prisca and Mama Efe are almost entirely separated from one another. Part of this estrangement is due to the fact that Prisca sympathizes with her disgruntled fellow villagers, but there is also a personal element that transcends cultural boundaries and will make sense to anyone who believes that blood ties are stronger than all other connections. Although she has her own reservations, Zinwe is more dependable.

 

The force her mother once was, though, has diminished. The death of a sick little kid is the pivotal event in the first portion of the narrative. Using incantations and a concoction, Mama Efe cures his illness the traditional way. The ritual falls flat. With topics they had previously only discussed in secret, the citizens confront her and demand answers. Why doesn’t the township employ a physician? Or other symbols of the contemporary age, such as a fire department, police force, or electricity? Under the proper conditions, this area might witness a rebellion.

 

Then a man appears on the shore as if to fulfill a prophecy or curse. Emeka Amakeze’s character is called Jasper. He radiates assurance, strength, and the menacing magnetism that drew “rebel” stars from the golden age of Hollywood.

 

A political story with elements of art-house film noir and criminal thrillers that didn’t have a big budget but made up for it with swaggering simplicity, the film starts to take on more political overtones as Jasper enters the picture. A bridge between the past and the present is created through the framing, blocking, and lighting of the scenes (done by Sundance award-winning cinematographer Llis Soares), which is what the protagonists long for but cannot achieve.

 

You can’t tear apart this movie in terms of plausibility or actual details. It’s a dream that makes sense and makes sense internally. Every character, place, or thing serves a certain purpose in the plot but is also

 

There is no self-explanation. That is unnecessary. The pictures, performances, and sounds contain everything. Even though the conversation is in pidgin English and has subtitles, the acting, writing, and filmmaking are all so well done that you might occasionally forget to look at them. These characters seek things that you know. You experience their emotions. Their perspective is what you see.

Before beginning production, Obasi declared his intention to create a surreal, trance-inducing movie. He has done that and more with the help of his associates. This is a piece in the vein of David Lynch, Jane Campion (especially “The Piano” and “Power of the Dog”), Alejandro Jodorowsky (“El Topo”), Jim Jarmusch (“Dead Man”), and Yasujir Ozu (in the framing of several of the dialogue sections).

 

Instead, you’ll become completely engrossed in whatever is taking place at that precise moment, whether it be couples dancing and flirting in a neighborhood bar, a village in crisis, or sisters arguing on a beach at night, their faces and bodies etched with white light that captures what it feels like when modern eyes have reacclimatized to the natural world and you only need the moon to see.

In theaters right now.

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