Friday 6 November 2020

Citation (Movie Review)

The sex-for-grades culture that exists in many African universities today is a very real problem that was recently brought to light by the brilliant BBC documentary, Sex for Grades. And just in case you are unfamiliar with the term, "sex for grades," this is when someone in a position of authority at a university (let's say a professor) requests sexual favors from a student in return for good grades. Highly despicable stuff, but sadly the reality that many students still find themselves in.

So it is a good thing then that the issue is getting more exposure in the new Netflix film, Citation. And who better to handle such a delicate subject matter than Kunle Afolayan, one of the most respected Nigerian directors working today. Except I quickly found out while watching Citation that something sounding great on paper doesn't necessarily translate to it being all that great in its execution.

Right off the bat, the movie opens with two decidedly cheap-looking production logos, all but setting the tone for what was to come. But I'm not here to judge the Powerpoint skills of the person responsible for slapping those logos together. I am here to talk about the actual movie. Based on a true-life story, the movie depicts the story of a Masters level student named Moremi, who catches the fancy of a foreign-exchange teacher, Professor Lucien.

Moremi quickly rises to become his star student, but what began as some well-intentioned interactions between the two slowly veers into dangerous territory when Lucien starts to make sexual advances towards her. This would culminate in a rape attempt that Lucien tries to spin as Moremi being the one making moves on him. Now Moremi must do her best to convince the school's disciplinary committee of her innocence, or risk getting expelled from the school.

Now that we're caught up on what the movie is about, let's start by diving into some positives. The best thing about Citation was Jimmy Jean-Louis, who plays the character of Professor Lucien. He was clearly the most accomplished actor on set, and his acting helped elevate the material. I especially loved the depictions of his early interactions with Moremi. Most of the dialogue in those scenes were spoken in a fluent mix of English and French, which felt organic.

And by extension, Temi Otedola also deserves an honorable mention for her portrayal of Moremi. She proved to be a capable lead, despite this being her first acting gig. Her Yoruba lines were a little too wooden for my liking though, especially in contrast with that of Gabriel Afolayan, who played her boyfriend, Koyejo, but I'm guessing (read: hoping) that had more to do with her trying to exaggerate her character's mixed upbringing.

And with that I'll fully transition into the criticism I have about Citation, and there are quite a few. While the acting from the two leads was more than adequate, the same cannot be said for the remainder of the cast. There were just too many ham-fisted deliveries, which always threatened to pull me out of the experience the movie was trying to create. I won't name any names, but you'll know the culprits when you see them.

Then there's the movie's tone, which was all over the place as it skirted between melodrama, comedy, and even romance, with little to no warning before making those switches. There is nothing inherently wrong with works that jump between disparate styles, but the problem here was that none of it seemed to gel particularly well together, resulting in a hodgepodge that never flowed smoothly from scene to scene.

Exacerbating the issue is the fact that the film also employs a nonlinear narrative structure, with the disciplinary hearing serving as a framing device for several flashbacks that fleshed out the backstory. But the movie never really did a good job of marking its many time jumps outside of those sequences, making it harder than necessary to piece together the sequence of events making up its overall narrative.

There were also some questionable casting choices, including Ini Edo who plays Gloria, Moremi's best friend in the movie. The movie establishes that Moremi was young for her class, but the age difference between her and Gloria was even more pronounced than that explanation accounted for. Seun Kuti also makes a head-scratching appearance as a cake delivery man, before launching into a performance of one of his afrobeat songs that lasted way too long in my opinion.

And this is another area where the movie falls short, in its pacing and editing. Several scenes felt like they should have been trimmed down in editing, or left out entirely as they only seemed to slow down the film's sense of momentum. And at two and a half hours in length, the final cut of the movie feels way longer than it needed to be.

Overall, the movie was just too hammy for my liking, from camera shots that lingered too long on their subjects, to the subjects themselves reading their lines with wooden deliveries. While it is admirable that the movie tries to tackle the highly sensitive subject matter of the sex-for-grades cultures in our higher education systems, the film does so with barely any of the subtlety the subject matter deserves. This is why I can't really recommend it to anyone but the staunchest of Kunle Afolayan fans.

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