Cameroonian filmmaker Olivier Assoua makes his feature directing debut with “The Eagle’s Nest,” a lurid, lurching and muddled melodrama that still manages some good ideas and terrific moments.
The screenplay, which he co-wrote, has an “everything but the kitchen sink” flavor as see see drug abuse and drug money, sexual abuse, betrayal and murder, all set against a story about a young woman’s desperation to get out of “this s–thole” that has her trapped, with nothing but her good looks and her wiles help her escape her hometown, Nkongsamba.
Our first glimpse of Paris, played by Claude Scholastique Nkou Mbida, is of her crawling through the mud on a rainy night. Whatever this bleached blonde’s “Goth” girl dreams, something has gone wrong.
“The Eagle’s Nest” — not sure what the title has to do with the story — clumsily backtracks and backfills as we learn what happened and what Paris plans to do about it.
She is “saved” from her injuries by the young nurse’s aide Obama (Richard Essame), a timid soul who pines for her. He has set up a clinic there, something Paris and her brassy BFF Samantha (Felicity Asseh) ridicule.
Paris doesn’t let whatever happened distract her from her escape plan. “Life sucks in Africa” she tells one and all (in French with English subtitles), including her mother (Sybile Aline Njoke) and little sister.
Everybody is curious about her plans, but she doesn’t give what we’d call straight answers. Mom and others want to know where she’s come up with the money, and she’s even more evasive about that.
We can guess.
But something happens, her money and passport are taken. As she won’t call the cops, it’s up to her and Samantha to track the perps through the modest clubs (where Samantha is a singer) and seedy nightlife of their corner of Cameroon.
Several elements conspire to make “The Eagle’s Nest” hard to follow. Assoua doesn’t clearly delineate what is the story’s “present” is, and what happened earlier. The flashbacks and present-day search for the cash and passport are mashed together in a very confusing way.
Performances would ordinarily help make that distinction, but Mbida never gives us any sense of urgency or panic over what’s happened to her prospects or her family. Worst of all, she doesn’t show much in the way of emotion until late in the third act. By then, we’ve spent an hour wondering if this or that scene came before her mother and little sister’s murder, or after it.
She never sheds a tear over this loss, which is almost certainly all her fault.
“What did you get yourself into this time?” is a question everybody asks and she won’t answer.
Her character drops the suggestion that she was molested by her father as a child, and lost her virginity “too cheaply” to the first guy who offered to give her a ride in his car — when she was 13. But even these facts of life are presented poker-faced.
Samantha’s worst moment came on an earlier attempt to escape Africa. We see her tortured and perhaps sexually assaulted in Tripoli, Libya, jumping off point for many migrants fleeing to Europe.
I say “perhaps sexually assaulted” because much of the violence here is kept off camera. A lucrative sex worker threesome that Sam sets up for her and Paris to score cash from a high roller (Keumbang Diedonné) is kept PG, more implied than explicit. Even Sam’s singing is skipped over as we see her club act, but don’t hear it.
The bare bones of a tight melodrama about narcissism and “look out for myself” greed, murder and money and betrayal are here. But it never comes together until the striking and violent finale.
Which suggests that there’s enough here for viewers to hope Assoua gets better and gets it right next time.
Rating: unrated, violence
Cast: Claude Scholastique Nkou Mbida, Felicity Asseh, Richard Essame, Keumbang Diedonné,
Credits: Directed by Olivier Assoua, scripted by Magno Assoua Adeline and Olivier Assoua. An Indie Rights release.
Running time: 1:31