I think the saddest thing about VEVE is that it had the potential of becoming the best One Fine Day Films feature. Potentially better than Nairobi Half Life. All the ingredients to ensuring it turned out to be were there, only that it got derailed by a few things.
Despite these things, the film got a lot of things right:
A lot of local films struggle with this. Setting up characters without looking like you’re reading character audition notes is a skill that a lot of scriptwriters struggle with. Setting up the characters as, Esther, the teacher, Amos, the politician, Wadu, the businessman, came out effortlessly. When things are done right, we easily forget how easily it could’ve gone wrong.
I can’t think of a single character who seemed off. All were believable in their roles. Maybe this is due to the fact that we haven’t seen many of them in anything else so selling those characters was easier.
If I had to nitpick on anyone’s performance, it would be Gerald Langiri’s. He did not play a police officer believably and seemed intimidated most of the time. Everyone else was really good, including the farmers, who I doubt are career actors. In fact, if anyone seemed to have passionately put in work in the film, it’s the villagers, especially Morris’s grandfather. However, the best piece of acting came from Abubakar Mire as Wadu.
Wadu & Translator
Yes, these two deserve their own paragraph. A lot was said about Oti and Mwas’s chemistry on Nairobi Half Life. Without taking anything away from that pair, these two were brilliant as boss and sidekick. How some of their scenes were the most serious in the film and still the funniest is a great achievement. They seemed like they needed a whole film on their own. It’s amazing when a special thing is only offered in small servings and not forced to upstage the whole movie.
Except for the first bar scene where Sammy keeps getting in and out of focus, the film was very well shot. The miraa plant looks beautiful in the film (you can catch a glimpse of this in the poster). However, the scene where the cars almost crashed should have come alive in the cinematography, and it didn’t. The landscape was captured beautifully, even though there’s one particular background which was used at least three times and made it seem repetitive. You could tell they planted the camera in the same spot and decided to shoot all the car-zooming-on-the-road scenes in that one location. I might be wrong, though. That set-up might have been some sort of totem, there to illustrate the cars coming from Nairobi to Meru.
Now the things that needed work:
There are two scenes inside a car, one with Amos, the other with Esther, where there were quick cuts that didn’t make sense.
This is a dialogue problem that could have been fixed in post-production. Morris’s tells Conrad that “the farmers are thinking of starting a union.” Next scene, Conrad is in Amos’s house telling him, “The farmers want to start a union.” They didn’t need to repeat that bit. If you show Steve and the grandfather talking in the farm and in the next scene show Steve at Amos’s house reacting to the statement, it would have come out better. Even if those scenes were acted out, all the editor had to do was cut it just after the grandfather says, “the farmers are thinking of starting a union” and immediately have Amos’s reaction. If the audience sees Sammy at the house, they’d have to be fools not to understand that this is the message that was delivered.
I really liked this story. Here, I’m just going to point out the things that seemed to derail the film. When Kenzo shows up looking for a job, it was a little convenient how that is exactly when Esther called asking for help and all the other drivers were away. Steve sending someone he doesn’t know and hasn’t vetted to help his boss’s wife wasn’t so bad, it was understandable that he was desperate and Kenzo was accompanied by a mechanic anyway.
However, giving Kenzo the car to drive all the way to Nairobi to deliver it back to the wife alone was reckless. Maybe they should have added a scene just before that showing Kenzo earning Sammy’s trust. Also, to make it a little bit more believable, maybe he should have given him directions. I mean, he just drove all the way to Nairobi, into a politician’s compound and left, no questions asked.
It wasn’t clear why Amos wanted a slow death for Kenzo. That bit seemed like they decided to adapt a film cliché with no real reason behind it.
It wasn’t clear why Amos had a clutch over Steve. Steve seemed like a nice guy, even opposing the burning down of Morris’s grandfather’s farm. But why did he do it in the end? Just because he was ordered to by his boss doesn’t make sense. They should have had a backstory, maybe Sammy owing Amos a favour or Amos having leverage over Sammy. They effectively did that with the Kenzo/Mudigi story. Maybe the suicide story was wasted on Mudigi’s reason for agreeing to do the job with Kenzo. The promise of Kshs. 3 million was enough for him to want in. They didn’t need to justify it further. I’m not saying it was wrong to have that story for Kenzo/Mudigi, I just wonder why that was more thought-through than the Amos/Sammy story.
Kago’s story was kind of pointless. At the end, it seemed like he was just there to give Sammy a reason to go to Nairobi when Amos called him at the end. However, if they made Amos save Kago when he got caught for stealing, then that would have been sufficient leverage over Steve. I know, I’m beating this point to pulp, but seriously, Steve being a good man doing bad things for Amos just didn’t make sense.
For some reason, getting a job at Slim’s Garage was easy and being Amos’s driver even easier. All this made it a little too convenient for the last scene.
Despite the ending being a little happy-ending-ish for my narcisitic self, I can’t blame a writer for the direction she wishes to take with her own film in. I had a problem explaining what this film is about. The easiest explanation would be that it’s a political drama set around the miraa trade. But the business end of it takes up as much time as the political bit. I would say it’s a film about power, its use and abuse. And if I am to look at it this way, maybe it should have largely concentrated on the Amos/Wadu story and have the heist as a major plot.
It’s great to see someone write a film set on African politics and not get into the usual preach-y tropes about voting in the right people and how you shouldn’t let money sway your choice. It latches onto an aspect that is essentially true in Africa: politics is just business. And the best part is, it doesn’t dwell on this. I liked that the story moved independent of any ideas about politics and business that we’re used to. That is just told a really good story and only had those ideas as backdrops. Whether this was deliberate or not, it is the mark of a mature writer.
This was a good film. If they managed to cut out the unnecessary bits (Kago) and streamlined some of the remaining ones (Morris/Clint) to work towards the same goal in the end, it would have been a brilliant film.
Note: Just before I started writing my thoughts on Veve, I realized that an interview I went for some time last year was for what turned out to be this film. I missed out on the job. As I wrote this, I realized the burden is on me to not sound bitter. I apologize if I apologize too much for opinion on the post. The more I wrote about it, the more I realized I liked a lot of things about, so I guess we’re good.