Life’s not fair. That’s one of the things we first hear even as we take our first steps, and one of the things we first see once we encounter the world beyond our front yard. Life ebbs and flows, shaped by circumstance and random chance. We can follow our dreams to a wonderful future, or reality can tank our hard work and ambition. That’s just how it works.
Eyimofe (This Is My Desire), the debut film from twin brothers Arie and Chuko Esiri, laments the unfairness of life — exploring how harsh diversions can delay or permanently halt best-laid plans. Set against the backdrop of a bustling Lagos, Nigeria, the Esiri brothers follow two people — engineer Mofe (Jude Akuwudike) and hairdresser Rosa (Temi Ami-Williams) — who long to leave their country for a life abroad.
Like a story from Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne — another set of brothers who depict real-world, everyday issues using relatable characters — we follow Mofe and Rosa as they try to obtain the money, requisite paperwork and visas to exit the country. Many of us can simply leave our country whenever we want to. For Mofe and Rosa, it is a multi-step, possibly monthslong slog through bureaucracy, family strife, financial stress, work problems, you name it.
Tragedy hits Mofe unexpectedly when his sister and her children die in a freak accident while they’re asleep. Rather than taking the time to process his grief, the sullen Mofe must keep moving, settle affairs, overcome obstacles and grapple with uncertainties as his window for escape continues to narrow. The Esiris find a wealth of resolve in Akuwudike, whose dignified resignation is counterintuitive — his character has every right to wallow in self-pity. The way Akuwudike leads us through his part of the film provides a close look at just how difficult life can be for those without the means to afford simple luxuries, and how strong such circumstances can make a person.
With Ami-Williams’ character we face a different kind of problem. Rosa and Mofe share the same landlord, the seemingly benevolent Vincent (a standout Toyin Oshinaike), who slowly reveals his true self as the film goes on — he’s less kindly and more resentful due to his failed advances toward Rosa. She’s caring for her sister, who is pregnant, while trying to get them both out of their less-than-ideal circumstances in Lagos. At times, Rosa’s arc can seem a little incongruent with Mofe’s. But that’s part of this film’s genius. The Esiris take two very similar struggles and create wildly different mosaics with their experiences. This isn’t just a plea for empathy; it’s a rich tribute to those who overcome extremely difficult circumstances. Ami-Williams plays Rosa with a steely resolve, but also a stinging sorrow for what she may have to do to provide for her family.
One of the highest compliments you can give a humanist drama is that it feels unforced. By the conclusion of Eyimofe (This Is My Desire) — which is shot in gorgeous, haunting 16mm — we’re not treated to the same type of shoehorned Hollywood ending we might see in an American version of this story. The Esiris find an intellectual honesty with the difficulties the two protagonists face.
In life, things might not all work out as planned in the end, but it’s about making things work regardless. The Esiris’ debut is an honorable embodiment of that principle.