Friday, November 28, 2008

NYADFF: Changing Faces

Though thought of as an Islamic country, studies estimate roughly forty percent of Nigeria’s population is Christian, so a Nigerian film with Christian themes is not such a contradiction in terms. Screening this afternoon at the New York African Diaspora Film Festival, Faruk Lasaki’s Changing Faces suggests personal angels and demons are not simply metaphorical, but wield a tangible influence on mortals which we cannot comprehend.

Marriage means little to Lola, the hedonistic journalist. Unmarried herself, she refuses to let a mere trifle like a wedding ring deter her from a promising sexual encounter. However, the devoutly Christian Dale Svenson takes marriage very seriously. He is even prim and proper with his own wife. Assigned to cover the painfully dull architectural conference he will address, the uptight Svenson catches her eye. Over the course of a week, Lola plays an elaborate game of sexual cat and mouse with her prey. Eventually, it indeed turns out that whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.

However, this time conquest comes with a price, both for Lola and Svenson. Faces posits a world in which sex not only occurs on a physical level, but on a spiritual level, involving the spirits people carry with them. By some fluke, Lola and Svenson swap their moral compasses during their night of passion. Now recklessly lecherous, Svenson recognizes something happened to him that night, which threatens to derail his marriage and career. On the wagon and living with integrity, Lola by contrast welcomes her new square life.

While Svenson resorts to a witch doctor’s services in a moment of desperation, Faces ultimately links salvation and faith. Lasaki’s debut narrative film, written by Yinka Ogun, is surprisingly overt in its Christian orientation. It is a morality tale in which morality matters. It suggests a life of rectitude is preferable to the ostensive pleasure of sin. However, like Christian films produced domestically, the production values are spotty and the acting is sometimes suspect. British actress Rachel Young fares the best as Lola, the former temptress. Unfortunately, as Svenson, her fellow countrymen, Marc Baylis comes across like an actor in a Christian film.

Still, in many ways Faces is an intriguing film. His scenes involving the unseen “angels” are particularly clever in their staging and Emmanuel Fagbure has a real screen presence as Lola’s leering supernatural companion. It also serves as an interesting reflection of contemporary Nigeria, in that the inter-racial relationships never raise eyebrows—at least for that specific reason. Though undercut by a weak lead, Faces suggests Lasaki might have some fascinating films in his future. It screens today at the Cowin Center and Monday at the Anthology Film Archives, as part of the NYADFF.