Last year, Andrew Dosunmu’s Restless City generated quite the buzz on the festival circuit, securing a limited release in theaters and establishing the former fashion photographer as one of the most exciting new voices in film. At Sundance, the Nigerian-born Donsunmu continues in this tradition with Mother of George, his second feature film, once again examining the complicated lives of African immigrants in America.
The film begins in a swirl of color and movement with the traditional Nigerian wedding of Adenike (Danai Gurira) and Ayodele (Isaach De Bankole), who receive a special blessing from the groom’s outspoken mother (Bukky Ajayi) for the future conception of a child. But over a year after the union, Adenike is frustrated and ashamed when the couple fails to conceive. Culturally, it’s her “fault”, and she feels the pressure acutely. Her husband, indifferent and ineffectual, is unwilling to address the issue at all.
In desperation, Adenike mulls over the advice of an aunt who suggests she secretly conceive a child with Ayodele’s brother Biyi (Tony Okungbowa). What transpires is a performance by Gurira that perhaps in the hands of any other director might seem over the top, but here is displayed with an overwhelmingly raw sense of honesty. Gurira, eerily luminescent in every frame, perfectly captures a part of the African experience – the struggle to reconcile tradition and heritage with modern, Western point-of-view.
While the story is certainly engaging, it could have been bolstered by more interaction between husband and wife – at times Ayodele’s distance and indifference can seem frustratingly expected.
Still, it’s the technical end of Mother of George that truly elevates the film. Bradford Young, cinematographer for Restless City as well as indie sensations Pariah and Middle of Nowhere, manages to heighten the human drama of the film with shots that experiment with the use of light and color in incredibly striking ways.
Zeba Blay is a Ghanaian-born film and culture writer based in New York. She is a contributor to Huffington Post, Africa Style Daily, and Slant Magazine. She co-hosts the weekly podcast Two Brown Girls, and runs a personal movie blog, Film Memory. Follow her on Twitter @zblay.