In the vibrant, bustling streets of Lagos, nothing comes easily or cheaply; the relentless nature of life and all its obstacles shapes this quietly stirring debut by Nigerian twin-brother directors Arie and Chuko Esiri. Eyimofe (This is my Desire) follows the loosely intertwined lives of two people trying to do what’s right for those around them while seeking a better life elsewhere.
Mofe is a mild-mannered engineer charged with repairing faulty machines and wires, as well as working at night to fix items brought to him by local village people. He’s also in the process of securing a visa so he can move to Spain. His readiness to relocate amusingly reflected in him giving himself the new last name of “Sanchez” on the passport that he proudly shows to his co-workers. However, when a sudden tragedy overshadows these plans, Mofe must shelve his dream and contend with his duties to the family.
Played incredibly sympathetically by Jude Akuwudike, Mofe steadily perseveres through the logistical demands, his grief jettisoned, only to return in his private moments. The gentle, measured manner in which he accepts his mounting financial expenses, as well as the lack of help from others, feels agonising. A sense of dread hangs in the air as his every interaction calls for more cost and compromise.
We also meet Rosa (newcomer Temi Ami-Williams), a young woman living with her teenage sister Grace (Cynthia Ebijie) and working as both a hairdresser and bartender. Both are seeking a visa to start a new life in Italy and enter into a high-stakes pact with broker Mama Esther (Chioma Omeruah) to guarantee their passage. Circumstances are further complicated by Grace’s pregnancy. She needs constant medical care, forcing Rosa to lean on the assistance given by landlord Mr. Vincent (Toyin Oshinaike), an older man clearly smitten with her.
Despite sharing economic strain as a common thread in their lives, it’s painfully clear that there is a divergence in the burden carried due to their genders. Mofe may be called on to shoulder familial responsibilities as a man, but in Rosa’s case, her body is also viewed as fair game in a transactional world. While it can be wielded to help progress her situation, it’s debatable whether she has a true choice in the matter. Instead, her femininity leaves her more vulnerable and at the mercy of others who are happy to take from her, both physically and financially. The Esiris illustrate this conflict through Rosa’s meeting with a white American ex-pat Peter (Jacob Alexander) during her shift at the bar. Peter exposes her to the high life and their conversations feel as intentional and playful as any fledgling couple. However, it’s not long before Peter’s affluent friends begin to suspect she’s only with him for the money – as most Lagosian women in her circumstances must be in order to survive, they warn.
Much of the skill of This Is My Desire lies in what the Esiris hold back from us. Narratively, it’s being denied knowledge of the circumstances surrounding Grace’s pregnancy or solid confirmation of Rosa’s true feelings towards Peter. But ironically, what gives this film its emotional resonance and impact is the smallness of the feelings displayed. Both characters endure tragedy but we never see the justified emotional or psychological breakdown that may be expected or reflected in other such films. We never see them leave Lagos. They simply carry on, as life does, swallowing the loss of old dreams and finding new desires. Mofe continues fixing broken wires and items, often without the proper resource, but patching them up as best he can, and Rosa continues to do what she feels is best to provide a life for her sister.
A quietly devastating and impressive debut, This Is My Desire is unflinching in its depiction of Lagos life. While the low-key approach and resulting stillness can throw off the pacing of the film, subtle yet deeply affecting performances from its leads make for a powerful tribute to the resilience of the millions of Mofes and Rosas across Nigeria and beyond.
Eyimofe (This Is My Desire) is in Select Theatres from Friday, July 23, 2021