Bolanle Austen Peters’ latest film Man of God or The Man of God (there are two different titles it seems) is a familiar story of fall and redemption channeling the famous story of the biblical prodigal son.
The prodigal son is Samuel Obalolu aka Samuel King played by Akah Nnani who tired of his father’s strict rules leaves his provincial home for Lagos where the action plays out on the campus of the University of Lagos.
There he meets childhood friend, Teju (Osas Oghodaro) and then the amoral Rekya (Dorcas Sola Fapson) who is a casual lover and dancer in his band. Along the line comes Joy (Atlanta Bridget Johnson). A love “quadrangle” ensues as Samuel tries to strike a balance between his academics, his musical aspirations and the love of three women.
Samuel is described as a covenant child in another nod to the Bible in the Old Testament story of Samuel whom God called to be a prophet. In rejecting his destiny, Samuel Obalolu struggles to get it right. While sleeping with Rekya and unsure of Teju’s feelings, he falls in love with Joy who despite her Christian persuasion reciprocates only to break Samuel’s heart in spectacular fashion.
Heart broken and depressed, Samuel in a classic case of a rebound relationship, falls for Teju and ends up marrying her. This is where the story finally picks up.
Married, Sam finds a job in a church run by Pastor (Eucharia Anunobi) and Bishop (Patrick Doyle). In presenting us with the corpulent and nasty couple, Bolanle Austen Peters gives us a snapshot of contemporary Pentecostal Christendom. Her expose is a devastating body slam that paints Christianity in very bad light.
Tired of the condescending attitude of the couple, especially Eucharia Anunobi’s character who says to Samuel in a classic take down: “we don’t pay you fat salary so you can dress fancy and look ridiculous. Remove that thing from your neck. It is entering the eyes of the girls,” Samuel egged on by a friend and returnee lover Rekya decides to set up his own church.
Waking his wife up from sleep, Samuel announces with fake piety, “I just heard from God. He called my name three times. He told me to get into ministry like my father.”
Ever the dutiful and loving wife, Teju does not miss a heart-beat as she expresses her unalloyed support. “I always knew there was a calling on your life ever since we were kids.” This is despite the evidence she has found about her husband’s shenanigans with young women in their church.
Handsome, charismatic and a beloved worship leader, Samuel sets up the Vineyard of Love ministries which becomes a roaring success in no time.
There is a particularly evocative scene in the film where Samuel now known as Pastor Samuel King arrives for service with his wife Teju in a convoy of luxury SUVs that will make many viewers laugh out loud because it is a true reflection of the superstar status of Nigerian Pentecostal pastors and it is ironically fitting that Mr. Nnani is playing the role of a charlatan after his very public denouncement of the head of COZA.
Many viewers familiar with the story of the COZA pastor and his public unraveling will find strong parallels thus making the narrative seem like something pulled from an online blog or twitter thread.
Bolanle Austen Peters’ third film is in that sense a devastating excoriation of Pentecostal Christianity, a denouncing of charlatans masquerading as pastors and a comment on marriages of convenience.
Viewed from that prism, Man of God is a cautionary tale and all the players from Samuel to Teju, Rekya to Joy are victims of their own dissembling though if truth be told, Rekya is the only character who is under no illusions about what she wants out of life; hustle and get rich.
The rest are hypocrites from Joy who marries the wrong man, Teju who could not express her love for Samuel and so pines away only to finally share him with many others when she eventually gets him
Samuel on the other hand could be read as laboring under a cloud of predestination as a covenant child who must keep a date with his destiny.
The movie delivers as a slice of contemporary Nigerian life albeit from the point of view of Pentecostal Christianity but there are many loose ends. How come Rekya could not reach Samuel for days and so goes to his room to leave a note that says “where are you?” Why couldn’t she call on a phone? And the lack of phones is irksome because while the timeline is not fully captured we see a flat screen TV in the house Rekya rents. Why is this so if the intention is to avoid anachronism?
The first time a phone makes an appearance is in the scene where Samuel’s pregnant lover calls to harangue him.
All said, Man of God is a feel good movie unraveling at a sedate pace, the picture quality is good but the sound sometimes flags.
Plot-wise, Man of God is problematic in places with different threads in the story left hanging. How come no one on campus remembered him as the former musical artistes that used to thrill them with his Fela impressions?
On the whole, Man of God delivers with a spectacular cast. Dorcas Sola Fapson is the stand-out scene stealer. She is seductive, potty mouthed and as real as they come. The MTV Shuga alum is a one to watch and this film may well be the one that leads to great things.