By Olufemi Fadahunsi
Nigerian movies tend to hang inside boxes they’re comfortable in, romance and comedy being the usual genre suspects. But what happens when a small team of independent filmmakers come together to make a movie groundbreaking in its appeal but also in the techniques employed in filming? You get My Week With Caroline: a story of young adult infatuation and the story of the growth of a young teenage boy who finds his own voice.
Private screenings of the film were held in Genesis Cinemas, Abuja and FIlmhouse Cinemas, Lagos with the attendance of industry names such as Mimi Onalaja, Tope Tedela, Lala Akindoju, Editi Effiong, MI Abaga, FK Abudu, Ishaya Bako, Tosin Igho, amongst a host of others who treated the movie to a rousing ovation at the end of the screening.
Directed by Akinwumi Osunkoya, a graduate of the New York Film Academy, the movie takes on the paths less trodden in its choice of theme and shooting techniques. For one, it is one of the first African movies to have been shot entirely on an iPhone 12 Pro.
The film follows Timi (played by the director, Akinwumi Osunkoya), a secondary school finalist. Timi is your average fair-haired child and favourite; with straight A’s and an impeccable record, Timi is all set to graduate from secondary school to study his parents’ preferred course of choice.
All of that changes when he meets Caroline (played by Keren-Happuch Odinenu), the daughter of an oft-travelling businessman. Free-spirited Caroline and strait-jacketed Timi begin an unlikely friendship that ends with their separation and Timi deciding to take control of his own future and remain true to his authentic self.
Each scene opens with a sharp picture and colourfully themed sets that belie the fact that the movie was shot on a consumer tech mobile phone. Through these lenses, we meet Timi’s no-nonsense father and a coddling mother, who set their expectations for their brilliant son right from the first scene; architecture and nothing less.
The movie continues to take us on a visually delicious trip, dividing resources between the use of sets and natural scenes. Akinwumi’s eye for breathtaking scenery comes to play in a beautifully shot scene where the protagonist and his newfound lover talk about their pasts and their futures, with still lakes and rolling hills in the background. Caroline, with the naive innocence of a Nigerian raised beyond these shores, urges a timid Timi to do what his heart says rather than oblige to his parents’ caprices.
The flow of the movie is seamless, as we follow the young lovers’ quick journey from friends, to salacious lovers and back to strangers, all in the span of a week. My Week With Caroline will appeal to you if you’re a lover of love, with endless scenes leaving the audiences with several awww and unexpected teary moments.
My Week With Caroline faced a number of challenges while being produced, according to director Akinwumi Osunkoya; a cancellation from a lead actress, funding constraints, three selected locations cancelling their reservations and the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. Despite these problems, the production team manages to tell a passionate story of love without the extra frills of Nollywood cinema we’re subjected to every movie season, all on a N7 million budget.
One of the most standout aspects of this project was the casting. From Timi’s above-middle-aged father to his juvenile classmates who tease Timi at every turn, every character was perfectly cast. We were spared the usual older-looking characters who everyone tries to pretend are a perfect fit for a secondary school role, much to the detriment of our eyes and minds. The costume and make-up team did a magnificent job of making the characters more realistic and in tune with our expected reality — that high school students are supposed to be young people. The makeup team is also to thank for transforming Timi from a fresh-faced secondary school-leaving boy to the mature, bearded tortured artist who misses his school crush with the yearning of old lovers.
A particularly less-than-innocent scene shows our angelic Timi being given a taste of the risque life when our sweet Caroline urges him to take a risk in a slightly racy restaurant scene. This scene serves to show Timi’s gentle detour from the straight narrow path to a much more exciting life with Caroline.
Again, we must give intense kudos to Akinwumi, the sole scriptwriter of the project, who managed to keep the film moving swimmingly on the back of excellently written dialogue. The language is accessible to all while remaining grounded in regular Nigerian language, so much so that while the movie is relatable to a wide range of audiences, it does not lose touch with Nigerian speaking realities. Remaining well-knitted with Nigerian tropes without being too heavy or foreign to a non-Nigerian audience, the dialogue isn’t contrived and removed; rather it helps the audience connect to the film’s make-believe scenarios. It is clear and unpretentious, a trap many of Nollywood’s big-name writers fall into so often.
The actors seem at home with the dialogue. It’s unclear and unimportant if this comes from incessant practising of lines or if it’s from some natural chemistry the actors have with their roles. The end result is a magnificent showing of the actors’ abilities and the filmmaker’s prowess. Actors Mimi Onalaja and Tope Tedela were said to have joined the project off the strength of the script alone.
Akinwumi Osunkoya does particularly well in portraying the anger, heartbreak and angst that racked through the young Timi as he discovers that not all love is meant to last forever. With crazed eyes and raised voices, Akinwumi portrayed young Timi’s sadness well enough for the audience to feel palpable and even understand.
The director flexed his knowledge of rhythm and pacing by giving us scenes that did not seem rushed or in a hurry to a pre-assumed point. Despite being a shorter film than most, the movie manages to gently carry the audience from Point A to B without leaving them feeling rushed and winded.
Timi fights two battles; with himself, torn between following his dreams and making his parents happy, and also with his mother, who assumes his sudden outburst is teenage militancy. The protagonist leaves the audience with a poignant line in one of the final scenes: If making something of myself means losing myself, then what am I making?
We don’t know yet if it’s a cinematic masterpiece or if Akinwumi is Nigeria’s next dare-devil, groundbreaking filmmaker. All we know is that the movie works like a well-oiled machine, the cogs and wheels turning in their intricate niches, the dialogue lubricating the machine’s parts.
The writer, Fadahunsi, is editor of Editor, Zikoko.