When the news of Sefi Atta and Kunle Afolayan’s collaboration broke out, fans and cinephile went agog. Sefi Atta’s ingenuity and Kunle Afolayan’s talent seemed to be a match made in heaven, we expected nothing less than a masterpiece. By all means, Swallow isn’t a shabbily done movie; if anything, the writer and director’s intention could be seen all through the film but book adaptation is not exactly a walk in the park.
For fans of Sefi Atta’s Swallow, this adaptation will appear underwhelming— her work, which is often characterized has been evocative and ingenious. What then could be wrong with this adaptation, the screenplay in which the prolific writer actually wrote? And supported by critically acclaimed director, Kunle Afolayan?
Set in the 80s, Swallow follows the life of two best friends/ roommates, Tolani and Rose hustling to make it in Lagos but they have to contend with financial incapacity, sexual harassment, drug trafficking and their misogynist boss.
The film begins with Tolani, back in the village as she narrates her travails in Lagos to her mother through a flash bask sequence, which is the whole movie. The voice-over from Tolani though not remotely engaging, introduced several other characters in the movie.
Over the years, Kunle Afolayan has made himself a connoisseur of socially conscious films, and setting a new standard each time. He directed arguably on the best Nigerian films of all time, October 1, to universal acclaim. One thing has become a staple for the auteur— casting non-actor as leads in his films, from Singer Chidinma in The Bridge, Simi in Mokalik, Temi Otedola in Citation to Niyola in Swallow. These stars aren’t exactly terrible actors, but giving an underwhelming performance is almost unavoidable because of the burden lead characters carry on such movies in which only seasoned or properly trained actors can embody. A rethink of what has become either a marketing strategy or desire for the director will be a step in the right direction.
As said earlier, the performances in this movie were benign, not enough to mark as a great performance nor elevate the quality of the movie. These characters felt like strangers— zero chemistry or blend, much of the dialogue is incoherent and disjointed— all you get is swoon-worthy cinematography.
Epic movies, vintage fashion, social issues, impeccable cinematography? These have always been Kunle Afolayan’s Forte, you can always expect him to deliver movies (arguably good movies) of this caliber. Were all these factors present in the movie? Yes, but those aren’t the only factors of making a great movie. The screenplay still stands as the most technical aspect of filmmaking—once this is faulty, nothing else is admirable.
The screenplay is entirely devoid of Sefi Atta’s magic, it does no justice to the literary piece and debuts forgettable characters. Apart from its impeccable cinematography, one thing that also stood out was Ijeoma Grace Agu’s terrific performance, for her, one might actually give Swallow a fighting chance.