Rebecca marks Shirley Frimpon-Manso’s first directorial effort of 2016 and it brought to mind one of her more accomplished offerings in 6 Hours to Christmas. You can note the minimal cast, strong chemistry and the compact environment as some of the similarities but whilst 6 Hours to Christmas was an immensely enjoyable bout of storytelling (my favourite Shirley flick), I feel like our director really holds her own in Rebecca from a filmmaking standpoint. However, parts of her screenplay aren’t as incisive as they want to be as this film sputters towards its end.
Rebecca opens in the vast scenery of the deserted countryside and narrows onto a conspicuous black Range Rover with our two characters seated in the back. We learn the two, Clifford (Joseph Benjamin) and Rebecca (Yvonne Okoro), are newlyweds in a more unconventional sense in that they were betrothed by their parents when they were young. None of them appears too happy about this. Rebecca sits still in silence with a despondent look of resignation. Clifford, on the other hand, is just going through the motions, fulfilling a promise to his mother who just passed away. We also learn from him the boy’s quarters await his new bride. He can’t wait to get rid of her.
Of more urgency for Clifford is the fact he is stuck on a dirt road with Rebecca because his car has run out of fuel and his driver has been gone hours in search for help. It is no surprise the sophisticated and controlling Clifford is condescending towards the simple Rebecca. The differences between them are crystal. Clifford has spent a chunk of his life in the white man’s land. He is smug, talks a good game and wields apple products. Rebecca, on the other hand, has been a rural girl all her life. To call her reticent is an understatement because she does not utter a word and she almost looks like she was plucked from a different period in time with her old school Kaba and quaint hair do. We assume she has lived all her life with the mantra; be seen, and not heard.
Shirley is very aware of these differences and reinforces them with one of the best shot sequences of the year (although the year is very young). She serves us a simple medium shot of the two in the Range Rover with the cocky Clifford sitting in the front passenger side of the car and Rebecca’s quiet self in the back. We see man and woman, urban and rural, past and present, liberal and conservative, shallow and substance. The divide is quite clear but there is more here. Shirley also appears to be establishing them as equals. Consider the solid long take she employs that has an animated Clifford rambling on about his life and Rebecca sitting silently in the back. The camera barely moves but it invites us our eyes to dart across the two onscreen entities.
It is understandable that we find ourselves paying attention to the charismatic Benjamin as Clifford but Okoro’s quite enigmatic Rebecca commands just as much as attention despite her silence and unassuming demeanour. Okoro doesn’t even move but she exudes some strong presence and despite hearing and being bored by what is on Clifford’s mind, we stare incessantly at Rebecca and try to see through her eyes into her thoughts. It is a strong opening from Shirley as she also flexes her craft by using her angles to and creeping shots to also expand the small Land Rover that we spend the majority of the film in.
A few major plot points come our way and the narrative unravels with Shirley appearing to spend a little too much time trying to tie up knots as against just playing on the strong intriguing dynamic between the two central characters. Yes, there are plot holes early on but the screenplay’s focus on the subtle character dynamics makes for some engaging stuff and negates those flaws. The film’s tone shifts when the central characters become more`comfortable with each other. It also starts to hit some good and memorable humor beats. But as we gather from trailers, this film is angling towards romance and I, unfortunately, harbor a small disdain for romance narratives, especially in Ghanaian cinema.
The problem here is, I don’t know that I was rooting for these two characters to end up together which is a key point in every romantic narrative. Perfect Picture works for me because I want the subjects live happily ever after. Here, I am content to just peel off the layers of the central characters but instead, we see things just get raunchy in a tacky way. There is the gratuitous bout of lovemaking in the rain which almost comes out of nowhere and is shot like an advertisement. There are also some odd musings on the meaning of love which stop short of interesting. Contrivances then call out to us and mar the denouement of this film.
Rebecca is not without its flaws. I was disappointed to see it falter towards the end but it is worth the watch for Shirley’s direction and the strong agency and performances from the cast. The first act probably warrants multiple viewings and Benjamin and Okoro are earnest and compelling enough to keep us caring for the characters. Rebecca is ultimately a story of a love foretold but it is equipped for much more.
By: Delali Adogla-Bessafirstname.lastname@example.org/Ghana