Get lost in this hidden gem of a film about the misery of being a stranger
Nigeria and Norway are worlds apart in almost every conceivable way. But when young Nigerian film student Ose (Nigerian-born actor Tunde Aladese, who studied film in Berlin herself) gets the opportunity to study in Drammen, Norway, she leaps at the chance.
In the award-winning Nigerian-Norwegian co-production The Lost Café, now streaming on Showmax, which was shot on location in Calabar, Nigeria and Drammen, Norway, film fans get to watch as Ose navigates all the awkwardness of culture shock, homesickness, her rotten brat of a roommate Sunniva (Jenny Bonden) and the constant assumption that Nigerian women abroad are in Europe for a prostitution holiday!
Compounding her issues is the constant tug at Ose’s heart strings from Hakeem (Omatta Udalor), the lover she left behind.
It’s a lot, honestly – and while Ose does wilt a bit, she slowly blooms again once she makes a sympathetic friend in coffee-making grandpa Oldman Thorkell (Terje Lien). The little kindness bridges the divide between continents and cultures.
At only 76 minutes, The Lost Café doesn’t ask for a lot of your time, but it pays back attention with a sharp-eyed, humorous look at the world of film students, families who are too much until they’re too far away, the misery of being a stranger and the pleasure of finding your feet in a new world.
It has something important to say about how the psychological hard work of adjustment happens in slow steps, backtracks and re-shuffling of ideas and assumptions.
A film about film
The Lost Café is especially rewarding to film students and anyone who’s fascinated by film making. Here are just five things to look for – but there is so much more.
1 The awkwardness of lectures
This is so dead-on realistic that you might find yourself curling up like a dead leaf. The lecturer (Carla Nyquist) puts in all those leading pauses that are begging for a response from her small class of students, only to be met with dead silence. The relief when Ose starts responding with questions and ideas of her own is painfully familiar.
2 Things get even more appallingly real after the students are put in groups to work on their first collaborative project together
Time and time again we see the group meet and split up with literally no working having been done thanks to the sulks, power struggles and that one group member who just doesn’t want to be there. Fortunately we’re subjected to only one scene of their dreadful-sounding film project. Thank you, The Lost Café!
3 There are intriguing little capsule discussions about film and filmmaking
And it doesn’t go unmentioned that Nigerian students know Western films but the Norwegian students don’t even know where to get a toe-hold in Nigerian film.
4 The lighting echoes Ose’s situation
In the opening scenes, the landscapes in both Nigeria and Norway are shot with all the passion and meaning of the landscape scenes from karaoke video – which is to say, none – and it’s pointedly alienating, echoing Ose’s situation. But as Ose starts to find her place, colour and light come flooding in and the camera focuses closer to the environment, pulling us into her world.
5 The costume design makes a statement about Ose and Sunniva’s relationship
And there are more touches like this even in costume – like when Sunniva extends an olive branch to Ose to apologise for being a brat, she is, for the first time, wearing clothes full of colour and pattern that echo what Ose has been wearing.
There’s a twist
While the film contains a twist of magic realism and one character who isn’t what they seem, that twist moment feeds back into the story. And it has something important to say about how the psychological hard work of adjustment happens in slow steps, backtracks and re-shuffling of ideas and assumptions.