Is it insensitive of me to wonder if the hidden subtitle for Keteke is: “testing the boundaries of a miscarriage”? A chunk of this film, directed by Peter Sedufia, features a heavily pregnant wife, climbing up hills in scorching heat, running through plains and carting absurdly bulky luggage when a feather would be deemed too heavy for a woman that close to labour. I missed the first five minutes so maybe there was some exposition indicating the large green suitcase we see her dragging was indeed lighter than a feather. Either way, something ludicrous is happening.
All this while, her husband carries in one hand, a Ghana-must-go bag (that probably had a jug of water as its heaviest item) and a portmanteau housing only a cassette player on the other. This husband isn’t flying the flag of married men in Keteke’s 1980s Ghana too high. Our stripped-down narrative follows this Ga couple, Boi (Adjetey Anang) and Atwei (Lydia Forson), travelling to the latter’s mother in the town of Akete, where they hope to be blessed with the birth of their first child. The stage for this road trip movie is set when they miss the morning train and are left of stranded.
They can decide to go back home or press on to the next train stop in hope of another train, which they do or we wouldn’t have a film. Why is it so important for them to get to Atwei’s mum in Akete or why didn’t they just wait at the same station for another train? I can’t say. Logic doesn’t appear to be one of the strong points of Keteke’s screenplay. It finds its merits in the moments of humour it infuses and does hold up as a legitimate comedy. Unsurprisingly, the film treads the path of lowest common denominator humor, but it does draw laughs, even from a comic snob like me.
Anang’s Boi is written to be a little too pantomime for my taste. A possible sequel may reveal him to be the town idiot but the lack of backstory means we have to wonder about their life outside this day. The film retains some awareness of Boi’s shtick with Atwei suffering very little of his antics. At a point, after the disappointment of missing the train, he tries to play the buffoon to cheer her up but she is not impressed, neither was I. Atwei is cut from a feisty cloth and is irritated by the seeming lack of competence from her husband. But she never complains about having to cart that bulky suitcase around – this plot point is an itch that bothered and fascinated me in equal measure me throughout the film.
Much like the couple’s relationship onscreen, moments of irritation in the story are followed by some moments of charm. After Boi tries to cheer his wife up by playing jester, he reaches for his suitcase, labelled “Muzik”, draws out the cassette player, slips in highlife tape and demonstrates how he possibly managed to win Atwei’s hand in marriage. Scenes like this showcase Sedufia’s neatness and make us wish the script had provided more avenues to the slap warm smiles on the audience that make you just go “aww”, as opposed to the cylce of badly paced jokes and mini-sketches.
Humor-wise, there is fine sequence that greets us when the couple finds themselves at a secluded compound after trekking for hours. It is inhabited by Fred Amugi’s stone-faced, ominous-eyed traditional priest alongside a hunched and creepy looking Joseph Otisiman (from The Cursed Ones) showing up as an Igor man-servant type. Amugi’s deadpan cameo performance definitely marks the comic peak of Keteke – very much a function of rising above the physical humor baseline already established. This sequence also hints at some mysticism which is nicely underplayed till the script runs out ideas and throws in some unnecessary exposition.
You would be hard-pressed to find some subtext to Sedufia’s film. In truth, our director is more interested in the destination than the journey, more interested gags with little care for character. Forson and Anang work well as a tandem, but are ultimately paired to milk laughs as opposed to being the conduit of stakes and some measure of a drama. After spending so much time with them, the most we learn is their dislike for each other’s mother-in-law as conveyed by childish name calling. We see the couple at their lowest, as screenwriting 01 demands, but the lack of investment means we just look beyond the horizon for the inevitable moment of relief when we should be firmly in the moment sharing in their pain.
Most of the failings in Keteke surface post-screening, when you try to think too hard about it. During the film itself, the comedy numbs the brain enough to make one lower their guard. Sedufia’s direction is simply functional, though his sense of time and space sometimes feels problematic enough to be a distraction. His camera is definitely interested in the subjects, getting up close, waiting for the glint in Atwei’s eyes or her sneers to morph into a tender smile when Boi permeates her defences. Keteke is not without its flaws, but the screening room I was in had a swell time and responded well to the overarching feel-good tone accentuated by bright vibrant meadows pleasant music choices.
Still, the numerous wide shots of the heavily pregnant Atwei running along the train tracks with that huge green suitcase linger, bringing cringe-inducing thoughts of pregnancy complications. Keteke will be fine popcorn fun for most, warts and all, but expecting couples should probably skip this one.