NIGERIA / 2008 / YORUBA WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES / 97 MIN
In “Arugbá,” the latest masterpiece by leading Nigerian filmmaker Tunde Kelani, the king of a small town in south-western Nigeria makes much publicized statements against corruption while instituting economic reforms and embracing foreign investors. But the reforms don’t appear to be trickling down to the people, the king trusts no one and has a weakness for women, which compromises his leadership.
Meanwhile, preparations are being made for a traditional ritual in which a young virgin – the arugbá – carries a sacrificial calabash. Adetutu is the beautiful young priestess selected by the oracle to carry the sacred calabash at the Osun Osogbo festival. The calabash can only be carried by a virgin, and after being abducted by three men, Adetutu’s chastity and suitability as the chosen one is questioned. Interwoven with themes of balance, love, loyalty, and loss, her tale also explores issues of governance, political corruption, HIV/AIDS and the influence of modernity over convention, all within the context of a culture that is rich with traditional values yet marred by traditional viewpoints.
With superb performances from Awoyemi and some of Nigeria’s leading actors, “Arugbá” is a beautifully executed film which functions as an allegory for contemporary Nigeria. Set against the backdrop of a corrupt society seeking cleansing, rebirth and nationhood, with all its attendant intrigues, the film intimately presents a world in which modernity and tradition exist alongside each other but seldom in equilibrium.