Each time, I go see a movie at the cinema, a particular memory recurs.
It is of my sister and I sitting side by side on the back-steps of our neighborhood cinema complex.
We are laughing and swapping stories, mingled with the sweetness from a bag of popcorn we are sharing.
I call those the good times.
I remember the laughter and the warmth, but what I sometimes forget is that the decision to purchase the shared popcorn meant that we were going to forgo watching a movie.
We could not afford the two.
Still, I would list that day in the cinema as one of the most fun outings I have had.
And no one can fault my choice because this thing called memory is subject to personal experience.
Last night in Lagos, The 7th Lights Camera Africa Film Festival kicked off with the continental premiere of the film, A Hotel Called Memory.
I decided last minute to attend, recalling how much “fun” I had at last year’s festival where Abba Makama’s Green White Green was the opening film.
When the film director, Akin Omotoso told us to enjoy the experience before the first scene of Hotel Called Memory hit the screen, I must say, I assumed he was simply being cordial. It was indeed a unique experience.
The boats and gorgeous beach view in Zanzibar was a welcome sight. Nse, the lead actress shopping and exploring odds and ends that were being sold on the island fit the tourist bill, until I slowly began to realize what was happening.
A Hotel Called Memory was going to be a silent film.
Now, I have nothing against silent films. I am a huge fan of The 2012 Oscar Winning Movie, The Artist and I loved it from the opening scene until the credits started to roll.
With A Hotel Called Memory, I have to admit that my expectations leaned towards, what is the plot? Can someone tell me where this is leading to? What is happening here? Did this movie start from the end and is it heading towards the beginning? Yes, I was that confused and laughed hysterically at the ludicrousness of watching a 49-minute film without being certain of its plot.
Interestingly, no plot and no plan was what the filmmakers wanted to achieve.
I still repeat that if not for the Question and Answer segment after the film, I would have been completely lost. Some members of the audience admitted to being lost, others confronted their diverse interpretations of what exactly was going on in A Hotel Called Memory, and Akin Omotoso welcomed all opinions and conclusions as valid.
Ego Boyo, the film’s producer did say that the goal was to make the audience think in a different way. To understand that there can be films with a different message or no message.
Now, hold on a minute! I don’t know about you, but it does sound like a waste of time to sit for almost and hour and get no message from a film. On deeper thought, one of the roles films play is to entertain and provoke thoughts and conversations, and not necessarily to pass a message. For this, I am on the side of the makers of A Hotel Called Memory.
Throughout the film, I was amazed by how each scene played out like a beautiful photograph. It was like we were flipping through a photographer’s body of work and experiencing both candid and staged shots captured with his lenses. So, even though I was not a huge fan of the no plot driven style of this film, the film making was gorgeous to behold.
Listening to Akin Omotoso say that the entire film was shot by only a two-man crew, I had to join the audience in breaking into an applause. All the scenes were shot without extra lighting, so they took advantage of the natural daylight and even the active horses on the beach in scenes from Lagos.
I love the fact that Akin Omotoso and Ego Boyo expect audiences to be befuddled. I mean, this sort of thing is rare in Nigeria and should I say world cinema. Silent movie and not plot-driven. A Hotel Called Memory is a love-story and at the same time, a break-up set to unfold, it is a traveler’s v-log with scenes from Cape Town, Lagos, and Zanzibar, and simultaneously feels like a tortuous journey of the futile struggle to figure out the plot.
One of the questions Akin Omotoso asks is, “What do you remember about loved ones, what do you remember about an experience?” On the way back home, a group of friends helped me fill in the blank spaces in their own way.
Nse’s character, Lola thought she was finding something better in leaving her unfaithful husband and going with this DJ she met in Zanzibar, who turns out to be in an open relationship with his girlfriend, who is a wine taster in Cape Town, where they both live. Lola is shown a glimpse of what her life will be (an emotional wreck) if she joins this love triangle, when she consoles a lady weeping at the Lagos airport. So, she decides to cling to what she has, memories of she and Mr DJ’s time in Zanzibar.
That is the closest thing to a story/plot, I have seen anyone come up with from A Hotel Called Memory, but still that is not my memory.
My memory is of a film that had me giggle in parts that I decided to improvise a plot where there was no dialogue. Speaking of dialogue, Akin Omotoso notes that audiences love dialogue and when this is lacking, our emotional intelligence is brought to the fore. He states, “at some point, your memory takes over.”
Even though, this fact turned out to be true, a Lagos audience who has dealt with traffic, NEPA issues, data issues, and life in one whole week may need a second shot at seeing this movie to really get to the essence of what the filmmakers would like us to experience.
A Hotel Called Memory is experimental and in a strange way, I am glad I got to experience it. It is totally different from last year’s Green White Green, which was message heavy and at some parts, playfully ridiculous.
It is mature and challenging, questioning whether the aesthetics of film making should trump a plot, and to what extent should introspection be laced into a film?
For me, A Hotel Called Memory remains incomplete, just like our memories. We sieve out the bad and dwell on the good, refusing to label an entire experience with only one possible ending.
The Lights Camera Africa Film Festival runs through Sunday, October 1st at the Federal Palace Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos.