In the arts scene, this year’s Valentine weekend will best be remembered by the gliteratti of Kenyan cinema assembling at Anga Imax in the Nairobi CBD to witness the premiere of Pillow Talk, a film directed by award winning producer (pun intended!) Alice Wangui who was making her directorial debut, and produced by Old Gold Films. The film was written by Charles Chanchori, he of the ‘Around Nairobi in one Night’ fame, and introduces two talented actors who deliver the story on screen, Muhugu Theuri as Aster and Emmanuel Mugo as Osoro. This is a welcome deviation as new talent is finding its way onto Kenyan cinemas, after years of audiences berating film directors and producers for using the same old faces for different films and television shows.
As you may have guessed from the title, the film follows a man and a woman who wake up naked next to each other trying to figure out how they ended up together in bed. In this era of KFCB’s prefect role in the film industry, the film takes a bold step in its visual elements by featuring a lot of skin by the two, with risqué undercurrents and sexual innuendos in their dialogue and actions. It then delves into the more salient issues like complicated parental and intimate relationships, religiosity, betrayal and societal obligations.
Osoro is a photographer who has an overwhelming sense of duty; consistently sending his ailing mom money for medication, but can’t go home because he feels he has disappointed his family because of his life choices. Aster is a seemingly lost girl seeking validation, and needs to be loved after falling out of favor with her mom due to religious differences. She is also disoriented after her ex-boyfriend shared her nudes on social media. The film follows these two wandering souls who are brought together by their one-night stand. It’s ironic that while Aster is running away from her nudes episode, she ends up in a photographer’s bed! And Osoro insists that for her to get over this phase of her life, she has to accept his offer of taking her nudes! The situation is best captured by a quick flashback to Casablanca (1942) and that famous quote ‘Of all the Gin Joints in the World, she walks into mine.’
From a technical angle, the team did a great job, much as it’s a one-set film. The actors’ chemistry is clear for all to see, and is a key element in keeping viewers glued to the screen. The sultry Aster is especially efficient in bringing out the introspective Osoro from his cocoon of uncertainty. The creative camera angles and shots helped heighten some of the emotions, and one wonders whether the film would have delved into the murky, mysterious but oh-so-sinfully-delish Hollywood approach to intimate scenes, were it not for good ole Uncle Zeke. Alice, who previously produced the award winning Angles of My Face, is also an accomplished critic, and did a good job polishing her own work because there’s little to write about the shortcomings of the film, which is also evidence of a thorough pre-production process, with a well thought out design contributing to the visual appeal of the film. However, one does wonder, is there anyone who has had such an in-depth discussion and shared life insights after a one-night stand with a stranger? If you are in the one-night stand business, this writer is curious to know whether this is a normal occurrence.
The Kenyan social scene (or should we say Nairobi?) is very well captured in this one hour fifteen minute flick as it explores various socio-cultural issues. Millennials have questioned the role of religion as it is increasingly viewed as a money-minting and brainwashing exercise after all the exposes on social media, while the reckless sexual behavior amongst the youth with one-night stands being the norm rather than the exception. Young people also seem to suffer from disillusionment following strained relations with their parents who invest a lot in their education and expect much more not putting in mind the current economic situation and new career options available for the youth.
Pillow Talk is a poignant reflection of today’s society, and is a well-crafted piece of art that should resonate with today’s youth and their parents as they navigate the uncertain waters of young adulthood. From a film maker’s perspective, the film once again asserts that Kenyan film makers have mastered the technical elements of film production, and its now time they mastered the storytelling bit as we continue to diversify our stories and bring audiences back to the big screen. Oh, and they also have a page on the IMDB database! How about that?