In the Igbo-language film Nne, Ikenna, a young boy from an impoverished home, is snatched from his mother and sister but, luckily, escapes his kidnappers; alone in the streets, he falls into the hands of a kindhearted woman, Mrs Mbah, who raises him as her child. Years later, now an adult, Ikenna is haunted by memories of his brokenhearted biological mother but does not know where she is or how to meet her.
Nne won the Best Indigenous Language (Igbo) category at the 2020 Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards (AMVCAs). It is Victor Iyke’s second feature-length film as a director, writer, producer, and actor. His first is Ofuobi (2018). His other films, which he did not direct but wrote and produced, are A Lonely Lane (2017) and The Pain, Your Storm (2019).
Unlike his lead character’s dilemma, Victor Iyke is confident about both the film’s destination and how to drive it there. Nne doesn’t bolt into its plot; for almost two hours, it moves at an unhurried pace and shows the abundant love in the lullaby of Ugochi, Ikenna’s biological mother (a fine performance by Chiege Alisigwe), the bonding of Ikenna and his new family, and aerial shots of villages and homes.
Ikenna the adult is played by new star Swanky JKA, who earned a Best Actor nomination and a Trailblazer Award at the AMVCAs 2020 for his role in Living in Bondage: Breaking Free, a sequel to the 1992 Igbo-language Nollywood classic Living in Bondage.
Swanky JKA’s performance is absorbing, especially when he uses facial features to relay emotional distress. His head drops when a hurtful remark is aimed at him or he learns discomfiting information; the tears quake his body and fall freely from his eyes when the weight of uncertainty presses on him; and his grief-crackled singing mends his heart as well as that of the audience.
There is understated chemistry between Swanky JKA’s Ikenna and his adopted mother Mrs Mbah, played by Frances Nsonwu Ikoroha. Chemistry fused with kindness. Though her husband and her friend, with the best intentions, try to discourage her from bringing Ikenna into her home, Mrs Mbah waves aside their worries. For her, Ikenna is a reminder of the role of everyone in the world: showing love to whoever needs it, regardless of his or her background.
Mrs Mbah plays her role in Ikenna’s life without any reservation, even acknowledging the fact that Ikenna will never forget the mother who birthed him and might want to go in search of her. She gives him an equal portion of love as she gives her own son, Chinedu, played by director Victor Iyke. For Mrs Mbah, as long as Ikenna is under her care, she is his mother and he is her child.
As Ikenna’s biological mother, Chiege Alisigwe has lesser screen time—an arrangement that works when Ikenna’s non-knowledge about her whereabouts is put into consideration. But she is masterful when called upon. At the start of the film, before trouble begins, she is a loving, doting mother: singing lullabies to her children, kissing their cheeks and calling them sweet names while feeding them.
As a grieving mother, Alisigwe uses her tears, wails, and mumblings to devastating effect: it is a perfect depiction of a woman lost at sea, reaching for anything that will guide her to the shore but clutching air. Her performance parallels Funke Akindele’s in Tunde Kelani’s 2011 film Maami.
After Living in Bondage, which is considered the film that transformed Nollywood, there were other Igbo-language films, like Nneka the Pretty Serpent (1994), Ikuku (1995), and Rattle Snake (1995). Recently, Igbo-language films on big stages have made a comeback: Obi Emelonye’s Onye Ozi (2013) and Ikechukwu Onyeka’s Chetanna (2014) are notable. These films have been important in promoting the Igbo language—a fading language—but they are artistically entertaining. Nne joins that list, redefining such deep subjects as what love and motherhood can be.
Watch the trailer below:
Uzoma Ihejirika is a Nigerian creative writer and journalist. He is an editor for the AfroAnthology Series and a copy editor for Minority Africa and has written for Open Country Mag. He has a short story on Lolwe.