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Thursday, March 8, 2018

PASTOR PAUL -- DVD Review by Porfle

In case you didn't know (I didn't), "Nollywood" refers to the Nigerian film industry, with PASTOR PAUL (2015) being the first American-Nollywood co-production. 

That's not what really matters, though--the important thing is that it's a well-done film that's involving, intriguing, and not a little bit mystifying.

Director and co-writer Jules David Bartkowski plays Benjamin, a Caucasian who's in West Africa to study the mathematical properties of the local drum rhythms. 

Benjamin's slight of build, mild-mannered and very unassuming, and, most of all, extremely impressionable and easily led.  That's how he ends up being talked into appearing in an independent film that's in need of a white actor.

The shoot, however, takes a dark turn when Benjamin, playing a ghost in what turns out to be a weird adaptation of "Hamlet", suffers a bizarre seizure after being repeatedly harassed by a bullying director. 

His new actor aquaintance Kubolor (Wanlov Kubolor) says he shows signs of being possessed by a malevolent spirit and should immediately seek help from a sort of witch doctor.

The rest of the story shows Benjamin bouncing between various influences, some grimly repeating Kubolor's advice while others sternly warn against it, while still attempting to pursue his studies in drum-rhythm mathematics in a neighboring village. 

There, a night of drum-beating revelry draws him into an even more intense seizure that leaves him so distraught that he wastes no time seeking out the witch doctor's help--which, unsurprisingly, draws him even deeper into fear and confusion.

But even with all this going on, the main appeal of PASTOR PAUL for me is simply taking in all the sights, sounds, and cultural eccentricities of the film's setting, a medium-sized West African city that's just brimming with local color in which Benjamin is the quintessential "fish out of water."

While playing his character with a disarming innocence, Bartkowski directs with a part documentary, part art-film style that looks crisp and eye-pleasing even when filming scenes of squalor and/or supernatural rituals that leave the viewer in a state of discomforted unease.  The score is an interesting sort of angular African jazz.

For a Westerner such as myself, Benjamin is the mundane element while all else is exotic and appealingly different (except the food, which I found anything but appealing).  To an African, the opposite would probably be true. 

This gives the film a constant feeling of newness and discovery that's rather refreshing until, of course, Benjamin's gradual crossing over into the dark side of this alien world steers things toward a strangeness that's increasingly nightmarish.

The DVD from IndiePix Films has a 1.78:1 ratio with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound and English subtitles (due to some very heavy accents and dialect).  Bonuses include a behind-the-scenes short, two music performances (including Bartowski's own rendition of "I Put a Spell On You"), and a teaser trailer.

PASTOR PAUL (the title refers to Benjamin's character in the fictional film he appears in) seems more involving, both visually and intellectually, than a film this modest has a right to be.  The ominous ending sneaks up on us and may seem a bit abrupt at first, but that just gives us something to keep thinking about when the credits start to role.

Order the DVD from IndiePix Films


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