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The Camera Doesn't Lie

Polymath Pictures

All the Colours of the World Are Between Black and White (2023)

Is it so much to want some peace, both in one's home and in one’s self? It is a horrible thing to hear of someone being lynched, which recently happened to a friend of writer-director Babatunde Apalowo. The friend’s crime? Being gay. In Nigeria homosexuality is still not accepted and it takes great courage to admit to it, even to yourself. “All the Colours of the World Are Between Black and White” is about two men (and one woman) with different levels of courage. It's a superb story of self-knowledge and self-acceptance set in a place where to do either is very difficult.

The movie makes its focus clear through a simple stylistic trick that's utterly new in cinema: The only faces fully shown on screen are that of motorbike courier Bambino (Tope Tedela), betting-shop owner and photographer-in-training Bawa (Riyo David), and Bambino's neighbor Ifeyinwa (Martha Ehinome Orhiere), who has a crush on him. Everyone else appears in pieces; David Wyte’s cinematography is crisp but very subtle about this, with careful framing to allow the alienation to be realized slowly. Look at the eating hands in the bottom right corner of the first restaurant scene, or the couple sitting with their backs to the camera in the second one. Neighbors often come to Bambino's door to ask for money - he's the most well-off person in his apartment building in Lagos, in a ramshackle neighborhood where everyone minds everyone else's business – and we hear their voices and see their hands, but never their faces. The married couple downstairs have been carrying out the same shouted arguments for nearly a decade; the walls are so thin Bambino can hear every word. Otherwise the other people are in the background, like in the horrifying scene when Bambino is eating dinner in the street and passersby give chase to a thief. When they catch him they burn him alive. Nothing is said about it; nothing needs to be. In these circumstances, when Bawa moves out from behind a computer monitor to smile at Bambino, it’s as shocking as the first sight of Munchkinland in “The Wizard of Oz.” For this alone the movie is worth seeing.

But the plot is pretty special too. Bawa asks Bambino, since he has the wheels and knows the city, to take him to picturesque spots around Lagos so he can build up his photo portfolio. Bambino obliges, for reasons he doesn't quite understand; and their ease together, along with their relaxed conversation, is in stark contrast to Bambino’s discomfort with Ifeyinwa. She is a student on the cusp of an arranged marriage who can't seem to stop throwing herself at him. When Bambino comes home to discover Ifeyinwa lying on his bed in her underwear, cheerfully saying she'll be his prostitute, he gently reminds her she's a virgin and tells her to get dressed. But for Bambino to be relaxed and happy with Bawa in his own apartment, even with their clothes on and not touching each other, is to risk judgment, with violent consequences possible every second.

Independent Nigerian cinema is unusual; and gay Nigerian cinema is rarer still; hence why the movie was brought to the Berlinale; and its excellence is that of a diamond in the rough. Mr. Tedela, a pastor’s son who took the part over familial disapproval, is just wonderful as Bambino, the quiet, wounded man who has learned not to name his hungers or his scars. The younger Bawa, played by Mr. David as a man who trusts himself and therefore enjoys the innate confidence that brings, is a remarkable foil. Their attraction being expressed indirectly, through a connection that burns through the screen, is all the stronger for not daring to speak its name. Ms. Orhiere makes Ifeyinwa's longings hopeful instead of pathetic, a tricky line to walk but she nails it. And the swirling, chaotic, violent city bustles around them, paying sharp attention to every little thing, and willing to cause permanent physical harm on very little provocation. Just by existing, sometimes. This is a beautiful reminder of the bravery that can be required just to be who you are, and how important it is to support that bravery wherever it is found.


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