By Kwoh B. Elonge*
Films get hyped all the time. It is the only way to build anticipation and sometimes, the actual product falls so flat pancakes feel thicker. And so, The Fisherman’s Diary carried with it the potential for a hyped disappointment; big budget, stellar commercial cast (Daphne and Ramsey Noah being obvious business choices), corporate sponsorship, and a cocky, though determined producer.
The Fisherman’s Diary moved from the norm however by marketing itself on its quality and accomplishments before its official premier in Douala, Cameroon. It followed a model of submission to international film Festivals and awards, receiving plenty nominations and winning several. That piqued audiences already. A Cameroonian film was competing at the international level, in some reputable places and leaving its mark. The prophet could now be listened to in its homeland.
The movie was premiered on the backdrop of the brutal and senseless murder of school children in Kumba. Ideally, such a happening will kill the mood or at least the tempo of an event, however hyped it has been. But the Fisherman’s Diary confronts similar theme, of education and the stranglehold that society, culture, manipulation can have in denying children especially the girl child that dream.
Starring Kang Quintus, Faith Fidel, Ndamo Damaris, Cosson Chinepoh, amongst others, the movie explores the journey of a girl child, a father and society as they tussle over education and its impact. It would seem like an overworked theme, if not that it is so properly angled, building itself on strings of properly rounded characters.
Kang Quintus plays lead as Solomon, an honest fisherman, pursued by the demons of his adamant community and his own experience with his dying wife (played by Laura Onyama). He is a loving father who is a victim of culture and his own anger. A man so intent on protecting his daughter that his love materializes into something both enduring and hurtful. Kang pulls the role quite well, providing so much nuance to his character that it is impossible not to hate him and impossible not to love him—you admire him.
Faith Fidel as Ekah is magical. A teenage girl whose yearning for an education puts her through a wire of heart-rending encounters and experiences, just like her role model Malala Yousafzai experienced in Pakistan. The narrative of Malala’s true-life story, a girl who is shot by Islamist extremists for trying to get and education, carries with it stark similarities to the events of Kumba on October 24th. And it is the backdrop from which Ekah takes her strength and inspiration, aided by an unwavering teacher, played by Ndamo Damarise.
The scenes between Damarise and Faith look like an Olympic match with two exceptional actresses, so bent on giving in their best that it results in scenes which are just mind-blowing. But it is Cosson Chinepoh as Lucas, a sweet talking, frivolous, an utterly manipulative elder brother to the lead (Solomon) that seals it for me. Cosson, is masterful. Villains in Cameroonian films tend to be so one dimensional that they become caricatures. Not Cosson. His is a layered character, seamlessly portrayed by a pro who provides so much nuance.
Enah Johnscott is a painterly director and it doesn’t hurt that he also co-wrote the script with the brilliant Buh Melvin AKA Proxy. There is very little fat in the movie, every scene, every shot seems well thought out and just properly framed. It is the scoring for me that makes the film even move iconic and unapologetically Cameroonian. Blaise B composed 27 songs for the movie. Songs performed by Ewube, Belvia and Lesline. Good lord did these artists deliver. The vocals are raw and unrestrained. It is a moment when language truly fails to capture it. You can only feel it. While Ewube has won for soundtrack, I truly feel that Di Feng by Lesline is the best performance. It is gripping, raw and just haunting.
But it will not be a Cameroonian movie if the end is not almost ruined by an unnecessary addition. Ekah’s story is given the flash forward treatment with a lousy, overdramatized speech by some actress who just pops up to sermonize in the most hackneyed manner. She charges into the film like a hurricane with a silly, anticlimactic valedictorian speech, a sermon really, at some foreign university. It is like two minutes stretched by the devil into two hours in hell, with fire and brimstone. It is completely unnecessary and underwhelming, basking in just too much redundancy. And this is not just about the scene but even the acting.
The Fisherman’s Diary is a film with a soul, it is a realistic depiction of the human condition; that of longing, resistance, manipulation, love, pain, happiness, redemption and triumph. It is a gripping narrative, a suspenseful story that hardly strays. It does not dabble in bullshit and it is most likely one of the greatest Cameroonian movies made in the last decade.
*Kwoh B. Elonge is a Cameroon Writer, Journalist and Commentator