Three shorts from Nigeria, all based on the concepts of magic and madness. Told in Pidgin English, it’s a bold collection of films examining the ways man can be deceived and the difficulties of establishing personal relationships. Funny, sometimes profound and differing wildly in quality and tone, it acts as a neat West African counterpart to Ryūsuke Hamaguchi’s Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (2021), leaning heavy on the mystical parts of everyday life. Spanning from the snooty upper-classes to the hustlers of Lagos to college students and businesspeople, it also provides a solid panorama of Nigerian identity.
It’s worth going through each one individually, as they’re all headed by different directors, starting with Michael Omonua’s Love Potion. With a direct Murakami reference (missing cat) and a callout to Norwegian Wood, Love Potion feels like it could’ve easily been told on the streets of Tokyo. A whimsical, day-dreaming advertisement executive dreams of a life with a man she met at a party; deciding to create a special potion that will have him falling in love with her. Omonua shoots in a mostly realist style, allowing the plain-spoken dialogue to do the heavy lifting. Once under the spell, the man asks: “Am I in love or am I crazy?” His friend tells him there’s no difference. Easily my favourite of the three and a great follow up to Omonua’s equally good short Rehearsal, which played Berlinale this year.
The second offering is entitled Yam, and directed by Abba Makama. Yams are said to have all kinds of magical properties. The Jamaicans even claim that it is the reason they run so fast. At first, this eponymous tale appears not to deal with the vegetable at all, following a small-time crook as he finds schemes here and there all over the streets. But when his life intersects with that of a tire repairman, the yam rears its mystical head. While a bit muddled in terms of composition, with a couple of uninteresting repetitions in its non-linear retelling, and a quite random use of focus pulling, Yam is saved by some neat long-takes and the high energy of its cast.
The final and final offering was directed by C.J. ‘Fiery’ Obasi. Suffer the Witch best encapsulates the good and bad sides of the anthology as a whole. While the narrative devices, musical cues and point-of-views are often quite well-handled, the short stories seem to meander and obfuscate when they should be snappy and to-the-point. This one tells the tale of a young college student who starts to suspect that her best friend might actually be a witch. Foregoing the potion motif in the first two films, Suffer the Witch explores the nature of taboos, the relationships between the sexes, the rivalry of female friendships and the inability to confront the truth. Feeling like the longest film of the three, it’s aided by solid needle drops and some great moments, but can’t manage to properly take off by the end
Juju Stories played in Concorso internazionale at Locarno Film Festival. It premieres in the UK in October as part of the BFI London Film Festival.