Is it insensitive of me to wonder if the hidden subtitle for Keteke is: “testing the boundaries of a miscarriage”? A chunk of the 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, on 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 sort of stranded.
They can decide to go back home or press on to the next train stop to try and catch the train, which they do or we wouldn’t have a film. Why is it so important for them to get to Akete to Atwei’s mum 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 humor it infuses and does hold up as a legitimate comedy. Yes, the film does sometimes tread the path of lowest common denominator humor, but it will draw laughs, even for comic snob like me.
Anang’s Boi is written to be l 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 what their life outside this day is. The film retains some awareness of boy’s shtick with Atwei suffering very little of his antics. At a point 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, though I do not believe she ever complains about having to cart that bulky suitcase around – this 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 managed to win Atwei’s hand in marriage. Moments 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 series of 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 priest (of sorts) 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, He 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 comedy 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 in childish name calling. As expected, we see the couple at their lowest 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 the script surface, upon reflection. The comedy numbs the brain and engages enough to make one lower their guard. Sedufia’s direction is assured if not 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 and sneer to morph into a tender smile when Boi permeates her defenses. Keteke is not without its flaws, but the screening room I was in had a swell time and rightfully so, given the overarching feel-good tone accentuated with bright vibrant meadows pleasant music choices.
Still, the numerous side shots of the heavily pregnant Atwei running along the train tracks with that huge green suitcase lingers 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.
By: Delali Adogla-Bessafirstname.lastname@example.org/Ghana