Andrew Dosunmu's Mother of George — the director's second feature following the
acclaimed Restless City — explores startlingly similar territory to another movie screening in this year's London Film Festival: Chika Anadu's B For Boy. Just like Anadu's film, Mother of George is also concerned with the pressure placed upon a Nigerian woman to please and placate her family by conceiving a male child. In this case, the protagonist, Adenike (Danai Gurira, of TV's The Walking Dead), is an immigrant living amongst New York's Yoruba community, but facing similar demands as Anadu's protagonist does in Nigeria. As Adenike submits to the pressure exerted by her mother-in-law, and takes drastic steps to ensure a pregnancy, Mother of George and B For Boy establish themselves as companion pieces, with some similar scenes and characters in common. However, the stylistic approach of the two films could hardly be more different.
Where Anadu opts for a straightforward, clear shooting style, in which we're always certain what and who is in the frame and what their relationship to one another is, Dosunmu goes in the opposite direction, giving his movie an extremely distinctive look and atmosphere that conveys an immigrant's experience in a highly stylised manner and which clearly exhibits the influence of the director's background in music video.
Bradley Young's cinematography eschews obvious New York landmarks entirely. Instead, the camera glides and floats around the characters (who are often reduced to body parts), coming to rest in unexpected places. Angles and editing are off-kilter; the shots frequently focus on the face of the character speaking while completely obscuring the person being addressed. The whole look is blurry, gauzy with a distinctive colour palette, creating a dreamy, soft-focused texture. Moving through the city or the house, the harried yet graceful Gurira is often shot slow-mo, recalling Maggie Cheung in Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love. Indeed, Dosunmu's abstract style sometimes suggests a merging of Wong's work with that of Claire Denis – right down to the casting of one of the latter's regular collaborators, Isaach de Bankolé, as Adenike's spouse Ayodele.
The director's idiosyncratic approach has its strengths and its drawbacks. On the one hand it provides the movie with a wonderfully suggestive, sensual ambience that keeps the viewer intrigued throughout. On the other it means that the characters don't fully emerge and that the film lacks the narrative drive of B For Boy. Doubtless Dosunmu would argue that that's not what he's going for here, but once melodramatic revelations start coming to light in the second half the film stutters, since the groundwork hasn't quite been laid for this shift. The observations made about women's position in a patriarchal society do come through, but in a muted way; ultimately, Adenike's dilemma feels distanced and the climax lacks impact.
Nonetheless, Mother of George is a striking piece of work and one that will likely reward repeat viewings. The extent to which its style serves its subject matter is debatable, but there's no denying the power of Dosunmu and Young's exquisitely composed images to linger in the mind.
Sun Oct 13, 2013: 20:45: NFT2
Thurs Oct 17, 2013: 13:00: ICA