By Franziskus Kazimierz (Casmil)
The Al-Mubarak International Film Production LTD movie Mutuwar Aure (Hausa: Death of the Marriage), produced in 2018, tells a story set in a modern-day Hausa community by and large dealing with the common, or perhaps a rather notorious topic of divorce in the Hausa cultural context. Thus, set exclusively within a family context, the film’s plot tells a narrative between a family drama – or what it may be for “Hausa eyes” – and a love-triangle story. It also heavily proselytizes Islam and defends its values and proscriptions – especially prayer – and against sorcery – a generally well-pronounced motive within Northern Nigeria’s Kannywood. It is, arguably, also against the oppression of women being pronounced by critics outside and within the community.
But beyond the mentioned main themes in the film, Mutuwar Aure develops a pretty interesting plot structure on its own, awaiting the spectators with unexpected turnarounds and slightly mixing genres, thereby making the plot’s twist even more curious.
To give an overview of the film’s plot – which primarily involves but a few characters only, making the film more understandable but maybe giving it too much “soberness”. It will certainly not be a spoiler to cheat about its beginning, when Abbas hands over a divorce letter to his wife, Rahma, containing the emotionally charged words “Náà-sàkee-ki” – I divorce you. By that, Abbas, a young man maybe in his early thirties, cuts one of the three possible ropes (igiyoyi) – with three cut ropes making reunification of the couple almost impossible. The twist of gloom on Abbas’ face makes the story’s plot seem predetermined, making him the “bloody antagonist” within the film – and Rahma, his victim, to be defended.
It is in this pattern the plot seems to be starting, but it is also precisely from this moment on that the story takes the unconventional twists mentioned above. In defence of Rahma, her family – in whose house Abbas is living – with a strong accent on its women seems to be ready to do everything for her – pronouncing it in a very hostile manner. By avoiding showing the strength of reconciliation, Mutuwar Aure heavily resembles Fuska Biyu (dir. Yaseen Auwal, 2018), a well-known Hausa movie containing similar features of adult women’s aggressiveness in order to fight for the interest of their own family. Throwing Abbas’ possessions out of the house, he also has to leave – having tried himself to send Rahma and their children away before. What is unknown to the spectators at this time is that the house where Abbas and Rahma had lived was granted to him by Rahma’s dad out of generosity. Therefore, by working heavily with fading-in back plots and visualized daydreams, the viewers may get the impression of Abbas being more than an antagonist while also being shameless and ungrateful.
Still, the movie contains more secrets to reveal. The more Abbas comes to Rahma, her dad and her family, the more it also becomes clear that there is something more to the divorce. Rahma was rude to him when she suspected that Abbas was having an affair with his secretary, Zainab – in this regard, we can observe a reversed love triangle.
Thus, shortly before Abbas can marry his secretary, Zainab, they can reunite by the strength of Rahma’s prayers – while Zainab is being rejected for using sorcerers to conquer Abbas’ heart – finally, the superiority of prayer over magic is demonstratively portrayed.
It can, therefore – also looking at the whole film – not be underlined enough in what grade the film proselytizes the traditional Islamic way of life. Rahma and her family, whom some might surely cheer in their fight for women’s rights initially, drop to be full of naivety and false morals, constantly humiliating a righteous man asking for their forgiveness. Rahma’s father finally admits that he had called him names for nothing.
Abbas, on the other side, a poor teacher at primary school who seems to be doing nothing but exploiting Rahma and her family until they don’t seem to be profitable anymore and moralistically reciting the Qur’an, changes to a mistakenly humiliated, righteous character. Rahma, herself, finally asks for his forgiveness.
While dealing with a fascinating plot, the way of making it a film probably could be better. The setting resembles Risala (dir. Abubakar S. Shehu, 2015) – as it is set in a different time – than other films being set in the modern day – by being quite sterile. There are hardly any scenes beside the Abbas’ house, making it appear like filmed theatre – the exact production environment for many, especially early, Kannywood movies. Though constantly in the background, music doesn’t play any role like in vocal numbers. By the combination of these circumstances, the film looks pretty puristic. It might be, therefore – although there are significant differences, why not (?) – a counterpart of Risala set in modern times portraying Abbas to be an innocent man being persecuted. Interestingly, though – of course – the place where Mutuwar Aure is set in – does contain modern equipment, the modernity is not really to feel, probably by missing liveliness. Also, in the end – and somehow similarly to Risala – the happiness is again relativized by new – though unreasonable – suspicions of Rahma.
Still, the plot is full of exciting and probably unconventional twists opening a broad horizon for this kind of movie. Though it could have been livelier and more trenchant in its actions, it still has a powerful message and is, by that, fitting to be talked about, if not purely for entertainment.
Casmil wrote from Cologne, Germany, via email@example.com.