'Nakom': Film Review

Nakom Still - H 2016
Courtesy of Film Society of Lincoln Center

Nakom Still - H 2016

An unassuming but winning ambition-versus-roots tale.

A medical student must decide whether to return for good to his small farm community in Ghana.

After a debut set in Cuba, Kelly Daniela Norris and T.W. Pittman travel to Africa for Nakom, the tale of a young man torn between urban ambitions and his rural roots. (Norris wrote and directed Sombras de Azul solo, with Pittman as producer; the two share writing/directing roles here.) But a changed venue results in no lack of authenticity for a picture that readily captures the specificity of its setting and of local mores; filmmaking restraint and a strong performance from star Jacob Ayanaba should win fans at fests and play well to a niche audience on video.

Making his screen debut, Ayanaba has poise to spare as Iddrisu, a Ghanaian med student who must return to his small farming village when his father dies. There, he finds family members who may well be thrown off their land if the next harvest season isn’t spectacularly good; as he's the only one who seems to have the gumption to get crops planted and tend to them, he reluctantly takes a leave from school to fix things.

Now called "bachelor chief" by neighbors, and criticized by family members for thinking he belongs in a better place, Iddrisu has a full plate of interpersonal problems to sort out while he prays for a good crop: His father's two wives dislike each other, large debts are owed to an uncle and his young brother isn't good for much except knocking up a young relative who is living with them temporarily. Ayanaba doesn't milk the put-upon good-son angle, instead emphasizing the kind of uncomplaining work ethic we know will carry Iddrisu far when he returns to school.

If he returns, that is. The local chief makes it clear he feels the village is in trouble without residents like Iddrisu; and the chief's unmarried daughter Comfort (Felicia Atampuri) makes the prospect of staying more appealing. Though the script's handling of the decision itself is uncomfortably abrupt, everything leading up to it benefits from a convincing, lived-in vibe.

A cast of non-actors acquits itself very nicely here, and the nature of the shoot — in which locals played key roles in the low-budget production — make the film's polish all the more impressive. Add cinematographer Robert Geile's occasional postcard-ready views of the horizon, and it's easy to imagine a man with good prospects thinking twice about leaving here to make his fortune overseas.

Venue: New Directors/New Films
Production company: Rasquache Films
: Jacob Ayanaba, Grace Ayariga, Justina Kulidu, Shetu Musah, Thomas Kulidu, James Azure, Felicia Atampuri
Directors: Kelly Daniela Norris, T.W. Pittman
: T.W. Pittman, Isaac Adakudugu
Producers: Isaac Adakudugu, Kelly Daniela Norris, T.W. Pittman, Giovanni Ximenez
Executive producer: Seemant Menon
Director of photography: Robert Geile
Editor: Tomas Vengris
Composer: Daby Balde

In Kusaal and English

Not rated, 90 minutes