After missing the Restless City screening at FESPACO in March, I was pleased to be invited by New York African Film Festival director, Mahen Bonetti, to view the film at its New York premiere on May 29.
First-time director Andrew Dosunmu premiered the film at Sundance this year. The movie follows Djibril, a young Senegalese immigrant, as he navigates the urban jungles of New York City. Per Dosunmu during the Q&A session, he wanted to portray the nuances of “universal displacement” in Djibril’s self-exile.
As a New Yorker, I found the film exquisite. Director of Photography Bradford Young captured images of Manhattan in ways that I had never seen during the 18-day shoot. There is a scene in which the M1 bus (my former preferred commute) repeatedly threatens to overtake Djibril on his moped – an apt visual metaphor for the City’s voracious appetite to swallow you whole.
As a Lagosian, I was bored. After spending the past nine months watching Nollywood films, Restless City’s sparse dialogue and silent close-ups didn’t resonate with the “aesthetics of outrage” that media anthropologist Brian Larkin (2008) coined to describe the melodramatic plot lines and overwrought acting that characterize Nigerian cinema. While there was plenty of drama in Restless City’s storyline, I thought its visual language was too “nuanced” to capture a popular African audience.
Dosunmu mentioned that after taking the film on the international festival circuit, he planned to release the film in Nigerian cinemas. I couldn’t help wondering how Restless City would be received by Lagosian movie-goers next to the current Silverbird offerings like Aramotu and The Hangover, Part II.