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Swallow 2021 Movie Review Poster Trailer Online
Lagos, Nigeria, 1985. The country is in the grip of The War Against Indiscipline, a top-down social program installed by the military dictatorship that’s supposed to “introduce sanity” to the lifestyle of everyday Nigerians. But Tolani (Eniola Akinbo) and her friend and roommate Rose (Ijeoma Grace Agu) are more worried about the injustices they encounter in their own daily lives. At the bank where they work, the bureaucratic busywork of loan applications and business correspondence seems to sustain a financial system that only benefits the managers and their big money friends, and oafish bosses harass them, free of accountability. It’s a struggle just to get by. Nevertheless, Tolani and Rose are proud to be independent women.
After Rose, fed up, walks out on the bank, she soon takes up with OC (Kelvin Ikeduba), who has connections abroad, an impressive collection of stereo equipment, and the means to cover her rent. Tolani, meanwhile, is still waiting on longtime boyfriend Sanwo (Deyemi Okanlawon) to get a real job and propose. It’s also getting harder and harder to endure the lecherous behavior of her boss Salako (Kehinde Segun Remi). She thinks back to what her mother told her, back in Makoku. “Protect your reputation. Don’t let life or any man take it away from you.” And that’s when Rose tells Tolani how OC makes all his money. He’s a smuggler with a stable of female drug mules, and Rose is his latest recruit.
Tolani is mortified by the prospect of putting drugs in her body to later evacuate in some dingy airport bathroom in London or Atlanta. And it doesn’t jibe with her value system, to be an accessory to some foreign stranger’s poisonous habit. But Rose’s assurances are working on her, and the money — $1500 a trip — is enticing. Would she just be trading in one master, the low-level tyrant Salako, for the patronage of another, the dangerous OC? Tolani is in turmoil, even as Rose excitedly prepares for her first run as a mule. “Be content with what you have,” Tolani recalls her father saying. And she is. But is there more to life than this?
Swallow keeps its titular action at arm’s length until the film’s final third, choosing instead to flesh out the immediate world Tolani and Rose are living in. And that choice works, because we come to understand where these women are coming from. They live simply, but are proud of what they have. But they’re even more proud of what’s inside, and the dignity that drives them. That’s why it’s so frustrating, watching them be forced to navigate the absurd Catch-22s of work culture at the bank just to eke out a living in the city. They deserve better. And so, even though OC is clearly not to be trusted, Rose’s confidence in the drug mule scheme is contagious even to the viewer. As she puts it, why should she concern herself with the ramifications? She’ll spend her $1500 on a new fan for the apartment, on new shoes for trekking, and let some rich kid in London snort up the drugs that came out of an African woman’s ass. And it’s because we know her so well that the consequences of the film’s final third are so gutting.
Buoyed by the relationship between Rose and Tolani at its center, Swallow also has a lot to say about the influence of elders and other wise people in the contemporary lives they lead. Mothers and fathers, and the older women in the neighborhood — Swallow keeps returning to them, and it’s their words that each woman returns to also, both for inspiration and to make the distinction between them and their own generation.