White Colour Black: Review. By Trent Neely.
This drama film follows Leke (Dudley O’Shaughnessy) a successful photographer living and working in London. Despite his professional successes however, Leke is shown to be someone who is wanting. He spends his nights partying, taking drugs, and engaging in sexual conquests, but none of these activities seem to bring him a true sense of fulfillment but rather serve as distractions of some kind.
Things are made even more complex when it is revealed that Leke’s father, who has been ill for some time and from whom Leke is estranged has passed away. As a result, Leke has to return home to Senegal after a long absence in order to bury his father. The remainder of the film follows Leke as his return to his country of birth and his interactions with the people there stirs within him a reflection on who he is, what he wants, and the effect that people and place has on him.
Writer and director Joseph A. Adesunloye crafts a compelling character journey for Leke without bogging down the film with unnecessary or heavy-handed exposition. Most of the nuances of Leke’s character are revealed by his interactions with the various characters and settings. For instance, all of Leke’s interactions in London are fleeting and pass by at an almost frenzied pace as he focuses on work and temporary personal enjoyment. This lets the audience know that Leke is searching for something even if he does not know it himself.
When he arrives in Senegal and meets Badewa (Yrsa Daley-Ward) and Assamane (Alassane Sy) the film begins to slow as Leke begins to have an appreciation for Senegal and have thoughtful conversations with Badewa and Assamane about Sengalese culture and their views on it. Only when Leke journeys to his father’s village and spends time with Monsieur Dabo (Wale Ojo) Badewa’s father his other daughter Esther ( again played by Yrsa Daley-Ward) and his son Ousmane (Damola Adelaja) does he truly begin to look inward appreciate the beauty of Sengalese culture on a personal level.
Revealing the layers of the character in this fashion grounds the film in realism in that very rarely in life (unlike in some films) do people have realizations about themselves as a result of other people spelling things out for them or dramatic monologues. Rather, it is due to the experiences people have with the world and people around them as well as the choices they make along the way. This is something that Adesunloye captures really well in the film thanks to the interactions mentioned above. We see a different Leke at the start of the film than we do the end Since the film emphasises taking the audience on a journey with its protagonist rather than spelling out every detail, it would be interesting to see what new themes, details make themselves known on repeat viewings.
Of course, character driven films are only as strong as the performances bringing the characters to life. Dudley O’Shaughnessy has a difficult job of portraying a character marked by a sense of emotional distance, especially early on in the film. Still, even if his actions and expressions are subtle, O’Shaughnessy always has a look in his eye that shows that Leke is a person that is always deep in thought, even if those thoughts are not centered on what is currently happening. As the character as a whole is fairly stoic, the moments in the film that do call for more overt emotional displays are very effective. The rest of the cast do a great job of portraying characters that are helping Leke on his journey, but still aso remain a sense of individuality.
Yrsa Daley-Ward’s portrayal of Badewa in particular is also a standout. While she, like Leke, left the village and pursued her own life, she is shown to have always maintained a strong bond with her family that is still in the village. Meaning, her character serves as a combination of the two sides of Leke with which he finds himself in conflict, a photographer in London doing what he wishes, and a man returning home to bury his father. Wale Ojo is also strong as Monsieur Dabo, a character who recognizes that Leke needs to reconnect with his past and his place of birth, but at the same time is not aggressive or judgemental. Rather, he is patient and compassionate in guiding Leke.
The cinematography by Rory Skeoch is another high point of the film. Skeoch clearly knows how to use angles, color, and contrast to not only create memorable visual frames but also put the viewer right into Leke’s headspace and journey.This especially true for the scenes set in Senegal, Skeoch makes sure to emphasize more than just the heat of a desert environment. The editing by Christopher C.F. Chow also helps visualize Leke’s growth. At the start of the film when Leke is just moving from one experience to the next without being truly engaged, the editing is fast and feels more like vignettes. Once he journeys to Senegal however, the editing becomes more spaced out as Leke becomes more contemplative.
If you want to see a character drama that allows for nuance, trusts the audience to figure things out for themselves, and has great performances and cinematography, check out this film if possible.
The film is premiering on digital platforms on Feb 19th.
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