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Sylvia… The ‘art’ of exploring ‘spirit husband’ in Nollywood

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Zainab Balogun in the movie, Sylvia

For the most part, Nollywood films that have ‘spirit husband’ themes wind up in a Pentecostal church or some juju man’s shrine with screaming scenes of exorcism.

In fact, such films abound in their numbers and they come across as some lazy screenwriters and directors’ cinematic approach to a mysterious African phenomenon that defies explanation.

The handling makes them even more pathetic, as they pander towards comic scenarios.

 
Rarely do these screenwriters and directors offer anything creative in the rendition of an otherwise science fiction (sci-fi) genre or ‘supernatural thriller’ of cinema.

What is worse, such films lack the right attitude to filmmaking, which is to explore a phenomenon that defies reason or commonsense with a humane approach.

But Nollywood appears gifted with such work of art in Sylvia, a Trino Studios’ first feature film.

It was premiered recently at the Silverbird Galleria, Lagos. It is billed for release on September 21, 2018.
 
Sylvia stars Chris Attoh (as Richard), Zainab Balogun (as Sylvia), Udoka Onyeka (as Obaro), Ini Dima Okojie among other casts and written by Vanessa Kanu, with direction from Daniel Oriari.
 
What started out, as childhood sweetheart would later blossom into a love affair between two young people, with the girl effectively on the driving seat of the affair, soon turns sour.

From a dream consciousness where the affair largely happens, the young man’s world begins to take shape as Richard finishes school and gets a job in the city.

When Richard comes of age and sees the woman of his dream with whom he decides to settle down, Sylvia points at their unwritten pact.

But Richard insists she is a mere dream that cannot be part of his waking reality.

Typical of such rebuff, Sylvia, shocked and scandalized at Richard’s behaviour, bids her time.
 
Richard successfully marries his heartthrob, Gbemi, but that is when an enraged Sylvia transforms into Cynthia.

She seeks out Obaro, Richard’s best friend and makes him fall in love with her so she could be close to Richard.

Sylvia finalizes her plot to do Richard in and strikes with deadly venom at his most vulnerable.

Director Oriari handles Sylvia with deft sensitivity, as he shows his audience rather than explain it.

From the idyllic rural setting where this fatal love seed is sown to the city where it finds its catastrophic denoument, Sylvia unravels with empathy and viewers are carried along the planes of a love triangle that transcends two worlds and the dramatic personae involved.

 
Oriari, who called Sylvia a supernatural thriller, explained the unfolding thematic preoccupation of the film as dealing with romance, obsession, supernatural phenomenon and heartbreak.

These concepts merge to produce a catastrophic climax.

It brings to the fore the influence of spirit phenomena in the lives of Africans in the form of ogbanje or abiku or simply ‘spirit wife or husband’ mystery.
 
“We made it such a way that it is universally accepted,” he said.

“This supernatural thriller (science fiction) is a fairly new frontier of cinema exploration. Cynthia exacts revenge like an art.”
 
The screenwriter, Vanessa Kanu, said, “Sylvia is an exploration of consciousness; it’s a bit scary because we don’t understand it.”
 
Although not entirely centred on it, Sylvia also explores mental health issue as originating from the after-effect of the psychological fallout of Cynthia’s deadly act.

We find Richard in a psychiatry ward from where he tells his beguiling story of encounter with a female from the netherworld who assists in his rise from his relative obscurity till he is plunged him into the abyss.
 
Sylvia is a movie that breaks from the usual Nollywood tradition.

It’s a breath of fresh cinematic experience worth the viewers’ time and expense. Its sound track is sombre and on point.

 
 
 


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