Sunday, January 31, 2010

Turning Point Pictures' I sing Of A Well - a review

I was really excited after I saw the trailer for 'I sing of a well (ISOAW)'. It looked like a great movie with some awesome actors. The Ghanaian movie industry had become so exciting that arguably Ghana's best actress of all-time, Akofa Edjeani Asiedu, wanted to make a comeback into the industry. It looked like one of those movies set in the village with English lines, but the movie had a little more oomph. When I was in Ghana during Christmas, I tried to catch a premiere or buy the VCD/DVD. The premieres had already been done and the producers hadn't committed the knee-jerk reaction to selling the VCDs, they were continuing to premiere in other countries and showing the movie in film festivals around the world. Ghanaian movie producers, take note. I believe this movie would do well in film festivals because it's awesome! How do I know? I watched it. I know people who know people who work with people who made the movie. Ghana's too small anyway :-)

The movie begins with a narration by Jimmy Jean-Louis who tells us about the film. Jimmy is the 'fine' Black man who played the main character in Phat Girls and he's from Haiti. Well, the film is set a long time ago, before Don Diego de Azambuja and Yaa Asantewaa. Maybe 12th century. We can't see Jimmy, we only hear his voice and some people making background noises behind a black screen. The movie has a great cast - John Osei Tutu Agyeman, Akofa Edjeani Asiedu, Godwin Kotey, Kofi Mends, Prince David Osei, Doris Sackitey, Luckie Lawson, Stacy Amoateng (host of MUSIC MUSIC), Prince Yawson (Waakye), etc.

The movie is set in Kotengbi, a village in the Mali empire. We know a lot about the Mali Empire from Social Studies classes, but villages like Kotengbi were not that important to be studied. In fact, we don't know much about how living in the 12th century in West Africa was so we can't even criticize the movie that much for what we see in it. Of course, they didn't speak English then but the characters are speaking English in the movie. Then again, what language was Mansa Musa and his crew speaking in the 12th century? Is that language still alive? So, Leila Djansi (director) and her crew decided that the language used alongside English should be Ewe. Yes, Ayigbe. Have you seen any Ghanaian movie with Ewe lines? I haven't. I was just loving this. I picked out a few Ewe words - Mawu, medekuku, efoa, dzigbordi. A lot of the actors are not Ewe, but they did well speaking it. Every time a Ghanaian language is used in a movie, I am looking for good and detailed sub-titles. ISOAW did a good job with this though I would have loved some subtitles for the Ewe songs that were sung. The 12th century was a little too early for hiplife or Ayigbe Edem songs. Credit Leila and her crew for sticking to their guns :-)

The movie talks about a prince, his desires and his will to save his kingdom from slave raiders. Some people may not want to see movies about slavery, but this one is different. The movie doesn't dwell on slavery, people in chains, etc. It's about love, greed, will, superstition, power, etc. This movie offers us a chance to experience life ages ago. With this done, I am still waiting for a movie on Yaa Asantewaa.

Every great movie must have great dialogue/lines/quotes. "I don't want to just see you, I want to touch you". Now that's a line with which a man could use to propose to a woman. But we live in different times, we don't have too many pre-marital sex fans. "The moon would be a fool not to come out and gaze at your beauty". The movie also made use of some proverbs and idioms.

My favorite character in the movie was the priestess, Alarka. I speak what I see, I only speak what I see. She reminded me of Okomfo Anokye, how traditional priests in the Ghanaian cultural setting prophesy and know the future. They say wise words and it's left to the inhabitants to decipher the meaning. Alarka was used to great effect in the movie's storyline and that was awesome.

The soundtrack was nice. We saw Akofa's character (Soraya) singing. Traditionally, Ghanaians like to sing when they are working. We saw this too. I like that the two coronations of kings had two different soundtracks, which sang the emotions and feelings of the 'movie' at those points. I think they did well choosing what songs to play at different times. There was a song they played at the end of the movie but I wasn't sure if it was Ghanaian. Sounded like one of those Afro-poppish Afro-beatish songs from Mali or Senegal. Leila Djansi can make some music though, she composed 'Evo' and'Dzigbordi' was by Mary Djansi MC-Palm.

I like how they measured time based on agriculture. I suppose 10 farming seasons signifies 10 years. What meals did they have in those times? The movie tells us, cassava dough. Those times also had a lot of hunters. "It is the thrill of the hunt you love, not the animal".

"My brother's daughters are not cheap fowls to be given away on sentiment". Bride price has been a feature of African marriages for a long time and they must have been taken even more seriously in the time the movie was set. Often times, those who haggle over bride prices and increase them are the uncles and extended families. How unfair! Marriage is hard, these other attendant things shouldn't make it any tougher. Talking about marriage and pre-marital sex, I said the movie was about love, right? Right. We see sex scenes. There was some nice background music as well. "She sets your loins on fire". The movie has to be R-rated. We even see someone's butt. I didn't think that was necessary.

When a movie wells emotion in you, it must be doing something. I almost cried. It must have been the soundtrack. I remember when I first cried in a movie, it was when Simba's father died in Lion King. I see people crying in these 'Accra movies' constantly, but I am never driven to cry with them. ISOAW did it well.

I like the cast used. Akofa did very well in her role though questions have been raised whether she should have remained a producer and not joined the cast. JOT Agyeman did well too, though his accent sounded a little foreign. Luckie Lawson did great too and Mary Yirenkyi played Alarka very well. I wonder how the cast was chosen but I will find this out from Leila herself. I told you, Ghana is such a small country.

But we are doing big things! Ghanaian movies are back and improving. 'I sing of a well' was spectacular. I just hope I haven't given the movie away, because you must all see it. Just be patient because I am not sure you'll see it on Youtube anytime soon. And that's the way it should be. :-) The movie had a huge crew! A lot of work was put into the movie and it paid off with the film. I hope it pays off financially for Turning Point Pictures and Calabash Images. ISOAW is definitely one of the better Ghanaian movies I've seen. Kudos!
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