One of your fears is that you will grow up to be your mother.
Many say that the true measure of any film is the quality of its writing and the poignancy of its story. Others swear by cinematography, the power of encapsulating nature and beauty, the transience of a moment in 3mm amber. But the new short film by Uche Aguh’s 55 Media postulates something else, that the perfect film marries these two schools of thought, finds a confluence between them. It has taken Aguh a while to get here, he has spent the last three years releasing a small cache of experimental short films including his ambitious debut I Still Do, and the visually compelling but conceptually crippled Sambisa, each one fine tuning the process that would create The Strength Of His Back, the film that will probably define a shift in the director’s style.
The new film opens with a single character centered in the frame, not a hair out of place. The scene is opulent, the film’s leads resplendent in their finery as a mother and her daughters pose wordlessly for a photoshoot. Words flow with an earnestness and a clarity of expression that is completely alien to what we’ve come to expect from the director’s work. They are attributed in part to memoirist Keside Anosike who has gained a following on social media for his raw, confessional prose and collaborated with Uche Aguh on writing the monologue for the film. Anosike’s words give new meaning to the sidelong glances and the hesitant smiles that the leads offer each other as they pose for photographs and preen in front of lit mirrors.
By the end of the film the matriarch is posed with only two of her daughters and a third, always dressed differently, always slightly apart from the rest is absent from the final photograph. The film doesn’t explain her connection to the matriarch or her very obvious absence in some scenes, neither does the film’s monologue. But perhaps that is the point, you have been drawn in to their resplendent world, but you have to connect the dots yourself, to tease out your own epiphanies. You have to craft them inner lives out of your own.
When the narrator finally asks you to exhale at the end of Strength Of Your Back, it is only then you realise you’ve been holding your breath the entire time. And perhaps that is all that needs to be said for Uche Aguh’s new film.
Watch Strength Of Your Back here.