It only took 12 minutes for Albert Donkor to construct the most vivid portrait of Ghanaian society in a good while. Very textured and brimming with empathy, this story by JoeWackle Kusi and Ricky Ansong, is a tacit critique of a dysfunctional society that has failed on the political, religious and familial front.
‘Boys No Dey Cry’s’ angst is filtered through our lead, the unemployed Joojo (Papa Osei Akoto). Donkor forces Joojo in our faces and piles on societal misfires as the film rolls to its quietly painful denouement. When we first meet him, there is a palpable unease permeating through the screen that seemingly defies the upbeat hip hop soundtrack until the anthem comes yelling: “I am frustrated!”
Joojo’s frustrations leave him in a dark place. His therapy sessions are meant to guide him to the light but Joojo’s isn’t the easiest subject. There is this sense of a performance within the performance by Akoto, which becomes clearer when Joojo opens up to the therapist, switching from English to pidgin.
There is a magnetic quality to Akoto, who at times looks like every breath brings him physical pain. Why is he running? Why is he frustrated? What’s his story? There may be maby answers to these but his fraught relationship with his father, which features prominently in the short film’s marketing, is presented as one of the core causes of his distress.
Nuance is a key ingredient of all good storytelling, an ingredient this screenplay does not want for. It falls firmly in the social realism boat that some of the finest entries into African Cinema have ridden. For some ‘Boys No Dey Cry’ will be a harsh peek into a different world; one some of us actively avoid as we check out. For others, this short will have a mirror effect or even amplify frustrations.
In a show of restraint, Donkor shies away from confrontation. What he seeks are introspection and release. The story gets on the nose with its surface ideas but he earns the moment when a tear finally streaks down Joojo’s cheek.
There is an immense affecting quality to the story that, in a way, makes it easy to overlook Donkor’s fine direction. But some of the bumps in the filmmaking are also made easier to swallow; like some sloppy edits or somewhat tedious attempts to sustain the unseen therapist conceit.
There is an ambiguity that punctuates the film’s subjective coda. It points to something bleaker; something more authentic than a mere therapy session; something akin to a subtle repression we all engage in. That, for me, is this story’s ultimate truth and ‘Boys No Dey Cry’ is richer for it.