Film Review
Tinashe Kusema

Nigerian filmmaker Desmond Ovbiagele’s career is one that is worthy to invest in.

He certainly knows his stuff.

Having spent over a decade in banking, Ovbiagele made a gamble by abandoning the profession to venture into a new but risky arts career. Five years ago, he wrote, produced and co-directed his debut feature film “Render to Caesar”.

The film made a huge splash.

It was selected to screen at FESPACO — Africa’s largest film festival — as well as at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles.

It also received awards for best screenplay at the Nollywood Movies Awards, including Best of Nollywood (BON) Awards.

This was in addition to the award for Best International Feature Film at the Nile Diaspora International.

Now, his follow-up, “The Milkmaid”, could very well be the film that announces the newbie to the big leagues.

It is, however, yet to be released in his native Nigeria. I had the privilege of being invited to a special screening of the film a fortnight ago.

I must admit, I was surprisingly impressed. Granted, both the film and the filmmaker are not quite the finished article, but everything about the two exceeded my expectations.

The film is set in rural Sub-Saharan Africa, where Aisha (Anthonieta Kalunta), a Fulani milkmaid, embarks on a long journey of strife and self-discovery.

This is after religious militants raid her village, kidnap her sister Zainab (Maryam Booth) and her.

Aisha manages to escape but is immediately forced back to captivity to rescue her sister. Unfortunately, her sister, now a willing participant and member of the group, presents Aisha’s biggest obstacle as she is forced to confront years of family drama and sibling rivalry.

Let’s start with the negatives.

The pacing was a bit shoddy.

I think this boils down to the extended 120-minute runtime, which I feel was not necessary.

On one end, it gave the writer, Ovbiagele, room to flesh out some of the characters like Aisha’s family members (untitled mother and husband).

However, a huge chunk of these characters do not really play key roles in supporting the main story.

Naturally, this eats into important time for the main cast. This is the case with Dangana (Gambo Usman Kona), a top soldier who is given both sisters as brides as reward for his excellent service.

Dangana is a key character in the sub-plot of the sibling rivalry as he develops genuine affection for older sister Aisha, which in time forces the feelings of resentment between the two sisters to surface.

Without giving away too much, Dangana goes through a metamorphosis during the movie but lacks attention from the director. There is also a poor selection of soundtrack and some dramatic scenes come off flat as a result.

However, these shortcomings do not entirely ruin the otherwise good movie.

The performances are top-notch, with honourable mention going to Booth, who really sinks her teeth into the material.

Her transformation from innocent captive to hardcore religious nut is a thing of marvel. Booth, alongside Kona and Kalunta, form the main key characters of the film and really deserve all the praise for this film’s guaranteed success.

That and Ovbiagele’s writing of course.

I was especially impressed by how the newbie takes a hot topic (religion in Africa), humanises it and creates a very entertaining movie. There is something for everyone. No character ends the movie the same way they start.

Ovbiagele deserves a lot of praise for the attention he pays to his main characters. Granted, success levels vary, but then again, no one is perfect.