Festival of Slaps

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Festival of Slaps is used with permission from Abdou Cisse. Learn more at https://twitter.com/abdou__cisse.

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Ade is joining his Nigerian parents for a celebratory dinner at an elegant restaurant in London. But at one point, his mother slaps him hard, to the shock of the other restaurant patrons.

The force of the slap brings up memories of Ade's past, of growing up in South London with his immigrant parents, when he and his mom would clash over his happy-go-lucky, free-spirited attitude and lackadaisical attitude to life. These arguments often ended with Ade getting slapped by his forceful, strong-minded mother. But this final slap, as well as the flow of memory it releases, makes him reflect on Ade's own parenting of his daughter Emma -- and all the things he learned from his mother.

Directed and written by Abdou Cisse, this dynamic short dramedy is, at its heart, a family narrative examining the clash between old-fashioned tough-love Pan-African parenting styles and modernity -- a contrast that also informs the film's considerable stylistic risks and energy, making for a watch that is as intriguing and entertaining as it is reflective and empathetic to both generations's perspectives.

The narrative's jumping-off point is the slap in the restaurant, followed by a catalog of other slaps that Ade has received from his mother over time. The film's title references a popular hashtag on Nigerian TikTok, and in many ways, many of the film's visual strategies seem to feed off the platform's cocktail of irreverent wit and quicksilver energy, from the hilariously heightened operatic slow-motion drama of the slaps to the action-packed editing to the almost fractured narrative.

Entering the world of the film at first can be disorienting, but the storytelling also provides interludes in the form of flashbacks to Ade's childhood and adolescence. Rendered in a relatively calmer naturalism, we piece together a strongly emotional yet turbulent relationship between son and mother, with arguments often focused on Ade's immersion into British life and ending in a wallop from Mom.

As actors, Josh Tedeku and Kemi Lofinmakin play young Ade and his mom with a dynamic of love, expectation and resentment that many teen-immigrant parent pairs will recognize, especially noting the pressure and anxiety Ade's mom experiences, trying to parent a wayward son in a culture that isn't her own. But as an older, wiser Ade, actor Tom Moutchi carries the film's primary emotional turning point, as he realizes how the intensity of his parents' love fueled their sometimes tough approach to keeping him on a solid path in life.

Vividly realized, boldly dynamic and fascinating to watch, "Festival of Slaps" ends with a full-circle moment, one that not only harkens back to the film's riveting, uproarious beginning but also provides a wry comment on the cyclical nature of family patterns. Errant children become stern parents when faced with the intransigence of their own kids, and suddenly it all becomes clear: how we work out our past in the present, how some things never change and how part of adulthood means realizing how we might be more like our parents than we thought.

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A Nigerian mother slaps her son so hard his life flashes before his eyes. | Festival of Slaps


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