Director: Izu Ojukwu
Writers: Izu Ojukwu, Adonijah Owiriwa
Stars: Ramsey Nouah, Rita Dominic, Chidi Mokeme, Ibinabo F iberisima, Larry Williams, Adonija Owiriwa, Daniel K. Daniel.
I’ll admit that I was unfamiliar with most of Izu Ojukwu’s works before seeing 76. Watching 76 made me want to go back and take a look at his earlier films. 76 is a historically faithful drama about a respected army official from the middle belt, Captain Joseph Dewa (Ramsey Nouah) and his south eastern wife, Suzie (Rita Dominic) who are eagerly anticipating their first child in the face of opposition from Suzie’s family on the grounds of their intertribal union. At the same time, Dewa is resisting pressures from top officers to join a coup plot to assassinate the head of state. When the coup fails, he is arrested in a clampdown on participants in the botched coup as he and his wife, Suzie attempt to keep him out of the firing squad line by proving his innocence.
The casting is inspired: Nouah’s portrayal of Dewa is both comprehensible and achingly real. The character retains a mystery mainly through body language and voice and Nouah plays these moments with a mix of inscrutability and delight. We see the calculations behind his eyes, but we also believe he can hide them from other characters- or at least the ones we need him to. The film does well to not idealize him: he’s an honourable man, but still flawed. This is an iconic performance-maybe a career best. Rita Dominic is physically and vocally right for Suzie- when she’s tender, we believe her and when she’s hysterical, we can hear the conviction in her voice. Together, their love story is credible.
The smaller roles are well cast too with Memry Svanhu as Eunice, the young wife of Captain Dewa’s neighbour whose hobby is without a doubt dirty dancing to ridiculously loud music as a standout. The director is genuinely interested in his actor’s performances and it shows. The banter between old pals, Dewa and Gomos (Chidi Mokeme) is beautiful. While no back story on their friendship is offered, the extent of their friendship is made clear by their comfortable banter.
The movie cleverly downplays the gory realities of an attempted coup, choosing to show the more bothersome scenes in black-and-white. One gets the sense that although 76 is loosely based on real events, these events are used more for context than substance. Instead, the dramatic focus is on Dewa, his wife and their love story. Even more interesting is that although Dewa is the tale’s protagonist, it is Suzie that is the movies hero and not only do we see much of the story from her point of view, she is the one we identify with and through her voice, the film succeeds in showing the strain and quiet suffering of the spouse of soldiers. This movie gives you a lot to chew on and you’re bound to leave partly nostalgic, partly aching for a Nigeria that once was. The invocation of vintage cars, gorgeous costumes, retro music, the ever faithful birthday cabin biscuit and the scene that shows a taxi driver adamantly refusing to collect pound notes from his passenger because at the time the Naira was stronger was so charming that you could hear the collective marvel of the audience.
The movie which took 7 years to get to our screens was shot in Ibadan and the cast were trained for 21 days by the Nigerian Defence Academy: a training that shone through in their interpretation of army officials and their mannerisms. Shot on super 16mm film, the production value of 76 is stylistically sexy. When the movie falters, it does so on technically delirious scenes, like the one where Dewa somehow manages to swiftly move his barely functional car during his escape from the barracks. This makes no sense since we had just seen army vans filled with armed military men barricading him in. While the musical soundtrack was historically accurate with vintage highlife and bustling jazz songs garnishing the film, there were scenes where sloppy mixing of the soundtrack almost drowned out the dialogue.
But beyond these forgivable flaws, 76 is right on the money with its triumphant interpretation of a dark chapter in Nigeria’s history. It has all the ingredients including a cast that flaunts infectious chemistry, an inspired plot and deliciously sensory cinematography. The result is a movie that announces that Nollywood is finally coming of age, and earns itself a Popcorn and Soda from us at the Sodas ‘N’ Popcorn HQ.
This review was written by Terver Bendega