Prime Video’s Breath of Life takes itself very seriously.
From the opening sequence of the 2-hour-long flick, Breath of Life it announces itself as different from the kinds of production that have come out of Nollywood.
It opens in 2060s South-South Nigeria, complete with holograms and other Hollywood-esque futuristic paraphernalia. The cinematography is excellent, as is the custom for a period film set sometime in the mid-20th century.
As a young reverend, Mr. Timi, played by Wale Ojo, sees his family, a wife, and a daughter, burnt alive. He seeks revenge but never recovers from the grief. Years pass, and then comes Elijah, played by Chimezie Imo, a young ambitious youth who wants to build a church working as a domestic help for Mr. Timi.
It is difficult to decipher what the point of Breath of Life is; That god works in mysterious ways? How to tame the shrew? The pernicious effects of excessive wealth?
Throughout the film, Breath of Life teases the kind of jaded storyline that was for many years the hallmark of Nollywood; The children of god having the last laugh. Except, the film aggressively breaks away from the narrative structures of those titles, opting instead to bring its characters to life, not as archetypes, but as fully rounded humans, navigating faith, but understanding that there are other options, other ways to be good in the world and not being joined in the hip with a religion.
In Mr. Timi, Breath of Life succeeds. After the tragedy, he has abandoned with ways of Christianity, operating a morose life of solitude. He is impatient, intolerant, irritable and has his walls almost impenetrable. But, his goodness, an ability to care, yet his struggles with showing said care comes through.
It is why the point of the film remains cloudy.
As the narrative moves away from Timi and pierces into the life of Elijah and his brewing love affair with Anna, played by Genoveve Umeh, Breath of Life falls into the good and evil trope that it had earlier denounced. When a rich man, Chief Okonkwo played by Sam Dede (Anna’s father) refuses to get behind using a building whose taxes he has cleared as a church, Okonkwo is perceived as evil, not loving god, or remotely interested in the continuation of the work of god. It is here that Breath of Life begins to struggle to find itself, holding a moral authority that is not tied to religiosity.
In a society where religion has wrecked so much havoc, even a righteous young pastor with good intentions demanding a building worth ₦45 million for the propagation of the gospel is cause for alarm. At this point, Breath of Life hastily comes to the conclusion that only the greedy will oppose not dolling out that much cash for the work of god.
Okonkwo, who later offers the ₦45 million be repaid to him for the church to continue, is quickly branded with one of Nollywood’s oldest caricatures; the greedy rich man who refuses to share his wealth with the community. Breath of Life comes to a conclusion with Mr Timi picking up where he left off with god.
There are other ways that Breath of Life could have held the moral high ground and retained its spiritual essence. But by going this route it quickly becomes less a journey to self for Timi and the coming of age for Elijah, to simply a religious film, reiterating that only in god can one live a life worthwhile.