Kevin Merz’s Glorious Exit is the story of his brother Jarreth’s journey to Nigeria to bury his late father. Jarreth Merz’s documentary An African Election was the first film screened at this year’s IREP Festival. Jarreth, an actor and filmmaker was born to Chidi Ibeabuchi, who had travelled abroad to study Medicine. According to the documentary, Chidi returns to Nigeria to establish a standard hospital in Enugu, but Jarreth and his mother soon leave to return abroad.
Inevitably, a call comes in one day from a dying Chidi summoning Jarreth to Nigeria for what would be the last time father and son meet. The next call from Nigeria would inform Jarreth of his father’s death and his responsibility in handling the burial rites as his father’s first son.
On arrival in Enugu, Jarreth is reunited with his brothers, inundated with burial plans, asked to find a Nigerian wife and bombarded with a list of requirements necessary for Chidi’s sweet repose. The noise from five churches and a blacksmith’s surrounding his Enugu base do not ease Jarreth’s tension. To make matters worse, an eager uncle Ujo declares that, as a matter of respect, the Will cannot be read until the dead is buried; this leaves the family with limited resources to finance the burial. The family plod on with the funeral arrangements and head to Oba, a distant town from Enugu. It is here (in a house that remains uncompleted even after 17 years) that the burial takes place amidst warnings to the children of the deceased to avoid food, drink and handshakes from anyone as these might carry some voodoo effect.
At some point, Jarreth himself appears to identify a witch. But nothing puts him off more than Ujo, who seems to be on a mission to milk his returnee-nephew to the last penny. Chidi’s maternal relatives also want some kind of bribe, promising a boycott that could be tagged ‘No Cow, No Burial.’ The family gets their cow, two bands play non-stop at the funeral and the guests dance till they are tired. The deceased’s family is left with a debt of 148,000 naira, which donations from the guests cannot cover.
Following his brother’s every move from California to Enugu and back, Kevin subtly highlights the many challenges in the way of Jarreth’s success at burying his father and his eventual realisation that Nigerian funerals are uniquely expensive. Kevin conveniently establishes Jarreth within the Nigerian arm of the Ibeabuchi family and we share the dreams of his younger brothers, one of whom aims to escape to Europe by any means. Ekene, Jarreth’s immediate younger, who wants to study Medicine like their father, spices the film’s closing moments with such musical talent that bodes a sense of calm for the Ibeabuchis even after Chidi’s glorious exit.