A young Nigerian travels to Brazil in search of his missing older brother in “Shine Your Eyes,” a lyrical São Paulo mystery-travelogue that takes us through math, music and into madness.
The search-for-a-missing person story is one of the most reliable in literature and film, and this feature from Matias Mariani (“I Touched All Your Stuff”) is a worthy addition to the canon and another reason to go “Around the World with Netflix.”
Amadi, played by veteran Nigerian actor O.C. Okeje (“Potato Potahto”) has been charged by his mother with finding his brother Ikenna, who moved to Brazil to make use of his beautiful mind.
Amadi, a musician, Internet searches for the college where math-genius Ikenna teaches. It takes him a while to figure out it doesn’t exist. He questions his uncle (Barry Igujie) for clues. Well, Ikenna may have done this, he may have done that. He “lost a lot of money gambling” could be key.
That’s what sends Amadi to the horse track. That’s why he bets on the horse named Schopenhauer.
“Here is not a good place for German philosophers,” an older gambler (Paolo Andre) chuckles. He has a professorial look about him. Maybe he’s met Ikenna? “Serendipity” becomes Amadi’s guiding principle in his search.
From the professor, he retrieves textbooks in which Ikenna scrawled his ideas into the margins. The Internet cafe has a repair shop. Could that be Ikenna’s old laptop?
Amadi’s quest takes him and us into the African diaspora of a huge South American city, stopping to jam or sing reggae karaoke and converse in Igbo (his native tongue), meeting people who encountered his brother — who was quite memorable — tracing photographs packed into that old laptop, lost in montages of thought, science, music and gambling that Ikenna mused about.
The mystery deepens and Amadi’s guilt over his lack of success — symbolized by the message his mother recorded to Ikenna on his phone — worsens. And then he meets a woman who works for his uncle who knew Ikenna.
Emilia (Indira Nascimento) doesn’t speak English or Igbo, Amadi doesn’t speak Portuguese. But they connect via cell phone translation apps and a simple “I enjoy his company” chemistry.
Half a dozen people collaborated with Mariani on the script, no doubt helping with all the philosophical, musical and scientific concepts and dialogue (in English, Portuguese and Igbo) touched on here.
Ukeje wonderfully conveys Amadi’s frustration at not being able to find what happened to his brother, his constant awareness that he’s not “the smart one.” Yet his cell phone, Internet savvy and instincts point him in one right direction after another. Through it all, Ukeje never lets us forget this is a man haunted by a sibling who is in his head with him.
Mariani gives us a tour of São Paolo beyond the tourist sites, into the working world of Africans and Afro-Brazilians in this “white man’s city.”
There are two ways movies like this can turn out, and both outcomes have dazzled in their own way, in classics such as “The Third Man” and taut recent entertainments such as “Searching.” I thought the payoff here was something less than the story that came before it.
Nevertheless, “Shine Your Eyes” will grab you and take you to a place you’ve never been and into a mystery which only a sibling can solve. It’s the best new film on Netflix this month.
MPAA Rating: unrated, with adult themes that almost get it into PG-13 territory.
Cast: O.C. Ukeje, Indira Nascimento, Paolo Andre, Barry Igujie
Credits: Directed by Matias Mariani, script by Chika Akandu, Francine Barbosa, Júlia Murat, Maíra Bühler, Chioma Thompson, Roberto Winter and Matias Mariani. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:40