In industrious Nigeria, of the 1980s, where social debasement ruled the day, nepotism frowned on the commoner is Tolani Ajao(Niyola). A conservative young woman brought up by a devout Christian mother and a morally just Ifa priest.
Netflix’s ‘Swallow’ is a period piece without a plot.
If, after an hour plus into the film, I still find myself wondering what it is precisely about, then I should be able to demand compensation for my time wasted, which is the case in ‘Swallow’, where too much time is exerted to build a story that leads to nothing.
Tolani is determined to make it big in corporate Nigeria and be the daughter her parents raised her to be. But, unfortunately, from start to finish, we only see her interchanging between 3 personalities.
First is a nagging yet supportive girlfriend demanding a proposal from her three-year boyfriend Sanwo (Deyemi Okanlawon).
Second is the preachy best friend to Rose Adamson(Ijeoma Grace Agu), who, in my opinion, should have been the main character. The third is a victim of systemic patriarchy.
By the way, the animated use of singer-songwriter ‘Niyola’ isn’t fooling anyone and is cringeworthy.
‘Swallow’ is the second film of the acclaimed Nollywood filmmaker I’ll watch after 2020s ‘ Citation’, which I enjoyed. However, the issue with ‘Swallow’ compared to ‘Citation’ is somewhat similar regarding film length and lead actor choice. But the strength of ‘Citation’, ‘A concrete plot’, is nowhere perceived in ‘Swallow’.
Notwithstanding its shortcomings, this stage drama has its affluence—for example, the complex expression of Nigeria in the 80s. The Fela Kuti wall arts, the kerosene lanterns, the costume, the newspaper headlines, the vehicles, the music, the currency, all of that; It stirs nostalgia to remind the ‘Baby Boomers’ how Nigeria was in their youth.
I believe Kunle Afolayan intentionally released this movie on independence day to remind Nigerian Millennials and Gen-zs of our past, which was blissful compared to now.
The subtle tackle of cultural sexism, gender discrimination in corporate Nigeria is also worthy of Applause.
In my opinion, not that it matters anyway; Kunle Afolayan is one of those filmmakers/directors like Charlie Kaufman(I’m Thinking of Ending Things) that slowly lures you into a world/film without handing you a map/story’s trajectory.
So, it is up to you, the audience, to get the message, whatever it may be. But is this pattern of storytelling effective in 2021, where peoples’ attention spans have only grown thinnest?. Only a few of the scenes and dialogues were relevant to the story themes and character development. Others were just shot to unnecessarily increase screen time in the name of world-building.
Some days I imagine what it must have been like to live in the 80s. Well, Kunle Afolayan’s film adaptation of Sefi Atta’s Novel did just that.
If you want a movie, I’m not saying a ‘good movie’ ‘a movie’ about Old Nigeria in aesthetic pictures; Netflix’s ‘Swallow’ is the title. But aside from that, Absolute time waster —Skip, please.
Israel Olorunnisola is a freelance creative. When he is not writing about Film, Music, TV or Pop culture he is telling stories on Wattpad.
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