The Eagle’s Nest is a bold reflection on desires of migration and merciless friendships in the wake of colonialism and patriarchal violence.
The debut feature of British-Cameroonian director Olivier Assoua focuses on Paris (Claude S Mbida Nkou) and Samantha (Felicity Asseh), two sex workers in a small Cameroonian town. On the eve of Paris’ departure for Europe, a thief breaks into her house, brutally killing her mother and sister. Paris embarks on a quest for answers and revenge with the reluctant help of Samantha, against the luxurious backdrop of rural Cameroon.
The Eagle’s Nest is not the most riveting thriller as the flashback-oriented narration gets a bit loose in places. Yet, it has a thrill of its own, midway between film noir and dark humour. A deep postcolonial pessimism and irony saturate the film, from the characters’ cynical outlook on the world to the cinematography. Religion in particular is seriously flayed. Paris’ house’s walls are cracked and denuded except for a portrait of a white Jesus proclaiming “Jesus is my shepherd, I shall not want”. Similarly, Paris’ former painting teacher, Dorcas, laments the fate of Paris’ family with the phrase “what a faithful friend we have in Jesus”.
“Gothic doll” as Paris calls herself and her dark-haired friend Samantha despite their distinctive styles both defy the stifling atmosphere of the small town. Actresses Claude S Mbida Nkou and Felicity Asseh both have an extraordinary presence on screen. The intimacy and homoeroticism of the duo is reminiscent of another iconic Cameroonian duo in Jean-Pierre Bekolo’s science fiction thriller Les Saignantes (Those Who Bleed, 2005). Through kung-fu style fights or witty remarks, Samantha and Paris comically transgress social conventions.
The desire to escape the small town but also Cameroon casts a long shadow throughout the film. Samantha’s sister is a returned student who never made it Europe having endured a horrific ordeal in Lybia. Paris is yet to try her chance. In one of her fits of sarcastic reverie, Paris gets her companions, Samantha and Obama (Richard Essame) to roleplay being on a boat crossing the Mediterranean instead of on top of a truck. This scene captures the dark humor and playfulness of the character as she exclaims enthusiastically: “We are so close to the Italian shore, I can smell spaghetti bolognese with meatball”.
Overall, the quality of The Eagle’s Nest production is impressive given the film was self-funded, with a low budget of £5,000 ($6,400). Director of photography Arsene Romuald Mvondo delivers stunning cinematography, as the characters navigate the labyrinthine streets of the town, its bare interiors, and the green and lush outdoors that surround it. In that regard, the film resonates with a long history of imaginative enlarging and rewriting of the possibilities of cinema by African filmmakers, despite structural lack of funding.
Yet, if the Eagles Nest avoids some of the usual traps of movies dealing with the theme of African migration, its handling of patriarchal violence raises questions regarding trauma porn and the ethics of representation.
Eagle’s Nest is available to watch at Raindance Film Festival any time from 28 Oct to 7 Nov 2020. Find out more here.