Sometimes words are just noise. Long rambling diatribes often lose their potency when an audience is not given a point of focus, sometimes a beautiful face or a scenic backdrop or the skill of the person delivering the words. But sometimes in film, less is more. Audiences don’t need to be motivated by bright costumes or fancy flashes to appreciate dialogue. It’s the same excuse behind Black and White photography, the idea that stripping color lends weight to the meaning of something.
In Paul Gaius’ Bad Market, there are scenes in the car when a character begins to speak, in the same moment the camera shifts focus from the speaker to another subject and lingers on the reaction of the listener. It happens a few times throughout the short film. The effect is like water trickling down your back, delicious to experience.
Bad Market describes its plot as follows “A fourteen-year old runaway ENO is being trafficked to the big city of Lagos by CHIKE, a ruthless pimp/ con artiste who intends to profit from her seeming innocence. Each must devise a plan to escape life’s harsh realities in a ‘dog eat dog’ world.” Trafficked is an adequate word as most of the film takes place in transit. Chike is played by a man who manages to give a character stereotype and sympathy in the same breath. His accent is thick and comical, but you don’t have too much time to chuckle because you’re gasping or sighing at his shocking kindness.
Bad Market begins in a brothel. A guidance and misdirection at the same time. You think you know where this movie is going, the slapping sounds of ongoing coitus do well to establish that premise. If not, there are other reminders, girls dressed in mismatched colors baring bodies without any of the coyness of foreplay. But soon the film leaves that territory into something else. A man in a car a young girl being driven to a fate she does not entirely approve of, some tension. If it looks like kidnapping…
There is a realism to the film that matches its grim tone well. Nobody looks offensively airbrushed or dirtied up. The girl in the car sleeps off and wakes up sweating because the window was wound up. When a decision has to be made there is no cop out, no magic clean solution, everything has consequences. All of this is captured by the most inventive camera angles. The director calls it guerilla filmmaking. Young directors, watch, take note of the positions, the editing flourishes.
Bad Market whether it meant to or not is itself a film suited to the times. It is feminist without being a propaganda tool. The women are not characters drawn with a blind male gaze. Eno starts out brearing victim-like characteristics but overpowers her own suppression from her circumstances, not without a cost of course. The film is a small treatise on life, everything comes at a cost.
For most of it Bad Market moves smoothly, guided by performances and technical flexibility but at the end it falls victim to its own demands. Narrative art forms generally as a premise require some resolution, and the temptation for neat endings can overpower some of the best films. Audiences crave endings like a brain craves endorphins. Mixed endings are a harder sell and Bad Market despite is title does not aspire to ending up as actual Bad Market. Still most of it is good work.
Paul Gaius and his team might have found a niche with this short film. See it when its released.
By Alithnayn Abdulkareem