Kelly Daniela Norris and T.W. Pittman’s Nakom immediately announces itself as a modest triumph of world-building. In the film’s opening, it takes only a few far-away shots of a drab-looking and unnamed Ghanaian city, and of Iddrisu (Jacob Ayanaba) being referred to as “my little country boy” by his girlfriend, to establish the former’s alienation from this environment. The would-be doctor soon returns to Nakom, a remote, almost ancient-looking village that the filmmakers capture in extended tracking shots that emphasize its dynamic pull on Iddrisu. The economy with which Norris and Pittman evoke this milieu extends to the trajectory of Iddrisu’s story as he finds himself, upon returning to Nakom after the death of his father, torn between finishing his medical studies and fulfilling familial duties in his hometown.
The film is reportedly the first to be shot in the Kusaal language, and the focus on the way characters speak, often repetitiously and in generalities, effectively splashes Nakon with its local color. But it isn’t the story so much as the environment itself that propels the story forward. Norris and Pittman invite audiences to absorb the essence of this village, how it teems with life around Iddrisu and grounds him. Villagers yearn for a less primitive community in spite of their resistance to change. There’s a scene depicting a dangerous childbirth that might’ve been helped with modern technology, and the repair of an archaic-looking mud wall with Iddrisu’s bare hands conveys how this society is perhaps forever rooted in the past.
The old world, represented by Nakom, being entrenched in a new-world dynamic of increasing technological evolution mirrors Iddrisu’s inner conflict over where he stands both in Nakom and in the nameless Ghanaian city he conducts his studies. Norris and Pittman resolve this in one of their typically graceful, wordless composite of images: Iddrisu, having used his medical training to great effect in Nakom, returns to the more overcrowded city depicted at the start of the film to recommence his schooling, his inconsequentiality in this place highlighted by a moment where he himself stuck within a crush of cars in heavy traffic. Nakom depicts a culture rarely ever shown on screen, and yet Iddrisu’s struggle to move forward without betraying his upbringing reflects feelings that are unmistakably universal.