‘Eyimofe (This Is My Desire)’ Review: This Tale of Would-Be Nigerian Migrants Is a Knockout

The lingering opening shot of “Eyimofe (This Is My Desire)” is a tangle of cords. Mofe (Jude Akuwudike), a factory technician working in Lagos, Nigeria, is all too familiar with their jumbled, haphazardly arranged mess. Constantly called to tinker with them to keep printers and cutting machines running, he’s learned to snip and tape and twist them to keep electrical malfunctions at bay. Mofe knows the precarity of the situation. But his calls for new junction boxes fall on deaf ears. And so, day in and day out, he must wrestle with these unruly cords to maintain a semblance of order on the factory floor.

It’s hard not to read into this introductory frame the central conceit of what co-directors (and twin brothers) Arie and Chuko Esiri are sketching out with their extraordinary debut feature film. Mofe, like many working class Nigerians we meet in “Eyimofe,” must contort his life to match the disarrayed world around him. He may yearn for order, for respite, for escape, but homespun survival tactics are all he can rely on to get by. He’s constantly one loose wire away from having it all going up in smoke.

“Eyimofe” (written by Chuko) is made up of two halves: “Spain” and “Italy.” Yet the locations promised by these titles remain as elusive for viewers as they do, respectively, for Mofe and Rosa (Temi Ami-Williams, a revelation). The two central characters are both intent on leaving Lagos behind for a better life in Europe. Mofe studiously saves up his wages to purchase himself a passport and a visa from vendors who set up computers in outdoor markets where their promises of letters of employment and other necessary paperwork make up a lucrative local industry. Rosa, meanwhile, works various jobs to gather enough cash to buy her way through the tortuous web of immigration bureaucracy and secure passage for herself and her school-aged pregnant sister, Grace (Cynthia Ebijie). Like Mofe, Rosa avoids — for reasons both logistical and financial — any semblance of an “official” kind of process. Instead, her paperwork is prepared by a resourceful Aunty (Chioma Omeruah’s Mama Esther), who’s all too happy to help so long as her eyebrow-raising price is met.

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In another kind of film, Mofe and Rosa’s laborious efforts in Lagos would be mere preamble for an immigrant narrative that would wistfully look back at the high costs paid for newfound lives on shores abroad. Not so in “Eyimofe.” These are twinned tragic stories about failure, about dreams forced to be deferred in the face of unforeseen tragedies that slowly chip away at Mofe and Rosa’s plans, forcing them to improvise new ways of living in a society that more often than not sees generosity and kindness — be it from family, bosses, landlords or lovers — as transactional tools to be used for self-advancement.

Thus, when Mofe unexpectedly loses his sister and her two young sons, all he encounters are financial and familial burdens. Even dying is expensive for those who can barely scrape by — and that’s before he has to deal with banks, lawyers, and his own aloof father about her unwilled estate. And Rosa, caught between a lascivious landlord who hopes his favors will be returned with interest, and a dashing Lebanese American tourist whose wealthy Nigerian friends warn him about letting himself become a walking ATM, finds herself resorting to both in times of need once money runs short and once Grace’s medical emergencies risk ruining them both.

Mofe and Rosa’s stories never quite intersect, though an anguished moment at a hospital and a tender one later one evening carefully suggest their overlapping timelines. Instead, they work in tandem to illustrate the frustrating systemic problems that rule the lives of Lagosian men and women like them.

Chuko Esiri’s languid novelistic approach to the material makes “Eyimofe” feel both intimate and sprawling. There’s a patience to the pacing here where these labyrinthian (and even melodramatic) sounding plot twists and turns unravel with such unhurried care that you can see why the twins would cite the New Taiwan Cinema as an obvious point of comparison and influence. Much of that is owed to the work of DP Arseni Khachaturan. Shot on 16mm, Khachaturan’s long takes encourage our wandering eyes to sit with the textures and rhythms of the Erisis’s world-building.

Every frame feels like the film distilled to its essence. It’s not just those jumbled cords that sit next to a sign that reads “The best safety tool is a safe worker.” It’s Grace, visibly showing, gleefully dancing in front of a concrete house teeming with kids that has “This house is not for sale” graffitied all over it. It’s Rosa, beaming in front of a passport photographer at an open air market once a wrinkled white sheet drowns out the colorful textiles behind her. It’s Mofe, atop a pink plastic chair, fixing broken appliances in the middle of the night, his outdoor stall aglow in green fluorescent light. Painstakingly conceived and teeming with raw, unbridled energy, “Eyimofe” offers a sumptuous, keen-eyed look at modern Lagosian life.

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