The second film from directing duo Kelly Daniela Norris and T. W. Pittman, NAKOM follows a Ghanaian medical student who is forced from his studies in the middle of a term when he hears that his father has died. He returns home to his small village to help with the burial, but is soon caught up in the farming politics when he realises that his family is in deep financial trouble.
When we first meet him, Iddrisu (Jacob Ayanaba) is trying his hardest to join what he sees as the progressive world, choosing to pursue a career in medicine rather than join the family farming business. He is doing well in his studies, enjoying city life, and even has a girlfriend who, semi-affectionately, refers to him as “my country boy”. Quickly, however, his dreams of civilisation are shattered when his sister calls to tell him of their father’s passing, and he starts the long journey north to his family’s farmstead. As he travels, paved streets and concrete buildings give way to dirt roads and mud huts, showing the stark contrast between the two lives that Iddrisu could have chosen.
The key message that NAKOM is trying to represent is the idea that, while one lifestyle is clearly more in line with Western sensibilities, it isn’t automatically the best choice. Also represented here is that the other life, centred around working the land and putting a lot of faith in nature, isn’t any less substantial. Far too often the image of Africa is given similarly to adverts on TV: skinny, dark skinned people who lay slumped in what little shade they can find, so desperate for food that they can’t even raise their heads. And while food is hardly bountiful in this small village, the people do what anybody would do in that situation; they carve a life for themselves by any means necessary.
NAKOM finds its beauty in the oftentimes tasking, but nonetheless joyful lives of its supporting cast. Whether it’s the Chief of the village (James Azure) offering out personal life experience to help Iddrisu come to terms with his new role in life, or cousin Fatima (Esther Issaka) who has discovered she is pregnant and fears the wrath of her crotchety grandfather, nobody can deny that the people of Nakom are living. As the film progresses, Iddrisu begins to understand this concept, as too do the audience watching. Each day that he has to wait for the rains to come, with the future of his family banking on a successful crop harvest, Iddrisu learns the power of admitting when you don’t have any control, and just putting all faith into nature itself.
Proving itself not only as an enjoyable tale of the age old battle between progress and tradition, but also as a necessary statement on the way that Western cinema so often tars all of Africa with the same brush, NAKOM delivers a deep, beautiful world filled with joyful, three dimension characters. In this, Norris and Pittman show that just because a way of life is based more on technology, it doesn’t mean that it is any more fulfilling than one that is based on hard work close to nature. As Iddrisu beautifully refers to his native land: “Here it’s like the Earth breaths. Then you breathe.”
Verdict: 4/5 Paddles
Originally appeared on http://www.takeonecff.com/2016/nakom-review as part of the 36th annual Cambridge Film Festival.