Sunday, November 08, 2015

A Nigerian movie, and an old Hitchcock

Last night had a bit of a splurge on movies, watching two, one made in Nigeria in 2013, and the other made in Hollywood way back in 1954. 

The first was B for Boy, a movie by first-time feature director, . Apart from being drawn-out in some places, and having an ending that arrived abruptly - leaving the viewer to decide for themselves what happened next - this a very moving film about a difficult subject. 

In Nigeria, even amongst Christian families, it's still deemed acceptable to bring in a second wife if the first wife doesn't produce a boy child. Amaka (Uche Nwadili) and Nonso (Ngozi Nwaneto) are a happily married couple, and as well off as many Westerners. Their home and workplaces are little different to those seen in Western homes, but there are some scenes set in Nonso's village that hark back to a different age. 

In spite of Nonso's mother introducing a very young and naive second 'wife' into the picture, Nonso refuses to have anything to do with her. He's in love with Amaka, and won't be ambushed into adding to his spouses. The trouble is that the couple don't have a son, 'only' a girl of between eight and ten. Amaka has had two miscarriages, and now, nearly forty, is expecting again. Is it a boy? At first she refuses to have an ultrasound because she's afraid of finding out that it's another girl. When she does have an ultrasound, her brother-in-law dies suddenly the same day, and from there everything spirals out of control for her. It's a complex story, made more so by people not talking when they should talk, and thus missing out on information that would change the course of their lives for the better. As so often happens in real life, the needed conversation is put off for one reason or another, and in this story, the consequences are drastic. 

Nwadili is wonderful in her role as a somewhat imperious mother and wife, one who's admired by her staff, even though she's plainly a fairly tough employer. Nwaneto plays the husband with great compassion and gentleness, and it's not entirely his fault that things go so awry. To tell you more about what happens would spoil the story; suffice to say, even given some shots that seem to be held for rather too long, this is an absorbing story. Anadu makes a bit too much use of hand-held cameras, I felt: sometimes a shot seems unnecessarily jumpy, even on a smallish screen, and occasionally it's as if the camera hasn't quite caught the person or object it should focus on. This apart, the direction is excellent, and the script, which has an air of presenting real life, is well-constructed. 

The second movie was that Hitchcock masterpiece, Rear Window. I"ve seen it at least twice before, and thought it might have lost some of its lustre, but it stands up brilliantly. The story concerns a professional news photographer, played by James Stewart, who's holed up in his apartment with a broken leg; so broken that the cast goes from thigh to foot. Bored by being cooped up when he's used to adventure, shooting photos around the world, he fantasizes about some of his very visible neighbours, making up stories about them. This leads him into thinking that his neighbour across the courtyard has murdered his wife. At first we believe this to be possible, although there's one tiny shot that causes some doubt, and then Stewart and his girlfriend (the girlfriend of all girlfriends, Grace Kelly, whom remarkably, Stewart is only half in love with), after having convinced themselves that they're right, convince themselves that they're wrong again, when an old detective friend (Wendell Corey) not only pooh-poohs their amateur sleuthing, but shows that all their 'facts' could easily prove a completely different scenario. But something else causes them to shift gear again, and this builds to a wonderfully exciting climax. 

Thelma Ritter plays the insurance nurse who comes in daily, and who also gets involved in the climax; always a wonderful actress, she's so in tune with her role here that you never question that she could be anything else. The only disappointment in the film, I think, is Raymond Burr, who, like most of the neighbours, is seen for most of the film only at a distance, or through a telephoto lens. Burr, who plays the possible murderer, seems not quite a home in the movie: it may not help that he barely gets any actual lines to speak, because he's always too far away to be heard; but it just seems that he isn't quite sure of what role he's playing. 

Being far away from the camera doesn't stop the various actors and actresses playing the other neighbours from giving real life to their roles: the pirouetting musical comedy dancer, the female sculptor, the newly-married couple, the dog-owning couple who sleep out of the fire escape because of the heat; the love-song composer, and 'Miss Lonelyhearts', the woman who nearly commits suicide in her loneliness. Ironically, this is visible to us, but Stewart and co are so concerned with their 'suspect' that they nearly miss seeing it happen.  

Scene from Stewart's 'apartment'; showing some of the
other dwellings. 
The enormous set, which is four storeys high and surrounds a courtyard, was built in the studio. There's a busy street just visible through an alleyway, with a working restaurant, and cars and trucks driving past. Pedestrians walk and delivery men deliver; birds fly around. There's even a downpour that sends the couple sleeping on the fire escape scuttling inside. We know that these various apartments aren't real, from the skimpy bed-sit to the room big enough to take a grand piano, but they become real for us as we share Stewart's voyeurism. 

The organisation of the movie is scrupulous in its details (including Hitchcock himself winding up a seven-day clock in the musician's apartment at one point). And the sense of claustrophobia is maintained until the end. Then there's the script, which is wonderfully articulate and full of great lines; Stewart at his best, Kelly at her best and Hitchcock somehow providing all this magic in his apparently casual way. 


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