An interesting juxtaposition lies at the start of Michael Omonua’s Osiwu (The Man who Cuts Tattoos). In an Edo village, a woman is told she needs to undergo a process of scarification before she gets married so that when she remembers the pain, she would hold unto her marriage stronger.
The setting changes to a room in a city and a different woman is wondering why she has to go through so much trouble to be with her boyfriend just before she puts her hand over a lighter’s flame as her man watches. Although the latter episode is part of a game the message is clear enough: regardless of time and place, affairs are never easy and love will demand scars.
We stay in the city where the situation is about to get worse for Michelle. She pregnant and is no longer needed at her firm. “Pregnant women can’t rapport with clients,” her boss says. He doesn’t have to be right; he just has to be her boss.
At first, it appears Osiwu is positioning the woman as victim of love’s rituals.
It is, after all, the woman in both the village and the city scenes that gets their pain highlighted for large swathes of the film. (The husband in the village scenes has his own marks but the process by which he receives them are not shown.) But Omonua’s screenplay performs a delightfully cheeky subversion in the third act. Its inversion of who wields patriarchy’s tools is subtle—but that is because the filmmaker trusts his audience to come to understand the potential power of a hurting woman.
The universal nature of the themes explored by Osiwu reminds its audience of one of the powers of cinema: Even if some films are not about you, those same films could really be about you.
Osiwu (The Man who Cuts Tattoos) is showing at the 2019 AFRIFF and is scheduled to screen on Tuesday, 12th November 2019.
Time: 8pm Screen: Filmhouse Landmark, Screen 1