Monday, July 27, 2020

Shine Your Eyes: From Lagos to Sao Paulo

Aptitude for music and mathematics come from the same part of the brain, so it rather follows Ikenna Igbomaeze was good at both. In Lagos, he played in an Afrobeat band with his younger brother Amadi, but he came to Sao Paulo to teach advanced statistics. Or so he told his family. With no communication from his older brother in over a year, Amadi has arrived to track him down. However, instead of a respectable academic, he learns his older brother turned into either a con man or a mad, delusional genius. Either way, Ikenna seems to be avoiding a reunion with his brother in Matias Mariani’s Shine Your Eyes, which launches globally this Wednesday on Netflix.

As the eldest brother, Ikenna is the one expected to assume responsibility for the Igbomaeze line. Yet, from Amadi’s perspective, his mother’s favoritism goes beyond the culturally-based expectations for the first-born. Regardless, Ikenna’s long absence is painful to her, so Amadi has come to dutifully collect him. Unfortunately, he quickly learns his brother faked his professorship. Instead, he spent a good deal of time at the horse track, where he apparently had a “system.” It is there he meets one of Ikenna’s cronies, Miro Kuzko, a Hungarian-Brazilian (and supposed university provost), who offers Amadi a place to crash.

Pursuing leads from Ikenna’s social media and abandoned laptop, Amadi manages to retrace his steps. However, a disturbing portrait starts to emerge of a mathematical mad man, who started to believe he could predict the underlying equations governing reality. You can definitely think of it in terms like
The Matrix.

A lot of media descriptions play up
Shine’s immigration angle and the fraternal Cain and Abel theme, but the film morphs into something like Aronofsky’s Pi, albeit a less science fiction-driven version. Still, Ikenna’s ferocious mania almost has us believing he cracked the universe’s code. It is a rather drastic change of pace from the last film Mariani co-directed (with Maira Buhler, who co-wrote Shine, along with Igbo screenwriter Chika Anadu), the mysterious post-modern documentary, I Touched All Your Stuff, but these two films certainly prove he has a knack for surprising viewers.

O.C. Ukeje (who has considerable British and Nigerian credits) is rock-solid anchoring
Shine as Amadi. It is a slow-burning, acutely human portrayal. Likewise, Chukwudi Iwuji (who was recently recurring on Designated Survivor) burns up the screen in his pivotal appearances as Ikenna. Ike Barry also helps keep the potentially surreal story grounded as their street-smart Uncle Ogbah.

tells the story of immigrants, but it says very little about immigration as a hot-button issue, which is one reason it feels so fresh and original. Mariani fully capitalizes on the downtown, somewhat rundown but still vital Sao Paulo locations. If you have ever visited the city, watching Shine shows you want you might have seen if you had taken a different turn leaving Cathedral Square. It is too bad Mariani did not use more Afrobeat music in the soundtrack, but he still shows plenty of sensitivity to Igbo culture, while also conveying the increasingly diverse sights and sounds of Sao Paulo. Highly recommended for art-house film patrons, Shine Your Eyes starts streaming Wednesday (7/29) on Netflix, world-wide.