The Movie 76
Illustration by Seun Ajibola
I watched the TIFF screening of 76 during the film festival and I’m glad I did. Nigeria has many scars in its short history, however filmmakers have never truly explored the psychological impact the period had on the wider population. 76 is a drama set against the backdrop of the failed military coup in 1976; Izu Ojukwu directed the film and he explores the period through the theme of love and resilience.
Ojukwu opens the film with Ramsey Nouah as Joseph and Rita Dominic as Suzy living in the southwest barracks. They are newly married and expecting a child. The two are kept awake as the sound of disco music from their neighbor blasts through the thin walls. It is after midnight but before the crack of dawn. Throughout the film, Ojukwu uses Joseph and Suzy to reflect love during difficult moments. First, Joseph goes against ranking officer protocol and speaks up for his pregnant wife lack of sleep because of the music. The action did not work as a he is a junior but we see a man of principle willing to risk punishment for his wife. Suzy demonstrates her love through her tireless effort to defend her husband during the coup. Her fight for his innocence was griping and led to the heaviest moment emotionally for the audience. Through the use of a clock, Ojukwu demonstrates his ability to connect objects with the characters. For instance, Joseph’s fight is early in the night and occurs before dawn, while Suzy’s fight occurs later in the day. The gap then becomes the moment of battle for power between the government and insurgents.
War is often portrayed as a dichotomy in which aggressors are portrayed as unjust in their rebellious cause. 76 presents the conflict between ethics and loyalty. I wondered during the film whether the rebels were savages in search for power or were they just filled with idealism, which ultimately led to their failure. As the film drew to a close I started to understand that Ojukwu did not want to make that decision for the audience. Joseph is an idealist who understands that the current government is incompetent, however, he remains loyal. In contrast, his comrades are idealists who choose insurrection over loyalty. Ojukwu uses dark lighting and sudden flashes of light to highlight the psychological conflict that comes from such a fragile decision. I couldn’t make the decision on which side was right. The characters, while on opposite ends were acting in love for their country. It may seem counterintuitive but I think Ojukwu was very calculated in choosing to make the decision difficult.
The plight of men at war is often depicted in war dramas. As a matter of fact, the focus should mostly be on them as they are the primary victims. However, 76 focuses on the women in the lives of these men. It was masterful in its execution and not only respectful of their struggles but also uplifts their resilience. In one particular scene we see how the women can be manipulated to go against their husbands through blackmail. Shortly after we see how Suzy connects the dots and realizes that she may be able to save her husband. After the screening, Rita Dominic mentions the research and discussions she had with survivors and how many of them were ostracized for being a wife to a rebel. Not only does it show the hypocrisy of the society but also fails to acknowledge the powerless state of the women. I came away with a better understanding of the resilient nature of these women and I am glad I chose this as one of the films to watch.