Wednesday, June 26, 2013

BAMCinemaFest: Mother of George

I've spoken here before about my feelings on starting families. To reiterate: I understand why people choose to do it, but I think reproduction is happening far too much by far too many people unqualified to be parents (or anything else), and that soon we'll reach a point where this planet can no longer sustain so many people.

That doesn't stop folks from making babies, though, especially when it's a cultural imperative, as we see in the new film Mother of George, director Andrew Dosunmu's follow-up to his feature debut, Restless City. It played at the Brooklyn Academy of Music during its fifth annual CinemaFest film festival. I hadn't planned on seeing anything else at the fest - I found out about it late - but I knew I had to see this one.

'Mother' star Danai Gurira
Set within a Nigerian community in Brooklyn, it's about a newlywed couple, Ayodele and Adenike, who want to have kids. In fact, it's kind of expected of them by the larger community of family and friends, in particular Ayodele's mother. However, the couple can't quite get it going, so to speak, and Adenike is scapegoated for it, which puts a strain on her marriage. Eventually, she realizes that she may have to consider alternate methods.

Mother reminded me more than a little bit of the film Breaking the Waves, although I can't say specifically why without revealing spoilers. I can say, however, that in both films, circumstance places the burden of "fixing" the marriage on the wife, even though it means defying cultural mores. 

Like Bess, Adenike lives within a small, restricted community with ancient traditions and clearly defined gender roles, and also like Bess, Adenike shows signs of chafing against them. In one scene, we see her on the telephone arguing with her mother-in-law and at one point she pleads something along the lines of, "Why is it always the woman?" The implication is that if she and her husband can't make a child, there must be something wrong with her.

'Mother' DP Bradford Young (l),
costume designer Mobolaji Dawodu (r)
Women get unfairly burdened with a lot of things in this world, and Mother makes that point artfully and with great sensitivity. The Walking Dead actress Danai Gurira, who was also in City, plays Adenike, and she is a revelation. 

Adenike gives of herself completely to Ayodele (played by Jim Jarmusch regular Isaach de Bankole), uncomplainingly and unconditionally, yet even when things go sour in their marriage, it's clear that she still loves him, and that she does the things she does out of love. This is her culture; she was born to it and she knew what marriage within it would mean, so when it turns on her, it feels like a betrayal, and Gurira makes you feel the heartbreak.

'Mother' screenwriter Darci Picoult
Once again, the visual style that Dosunmu is becoming known for is on display here. Director of photography Bradford Young (REMEMBER THIS NAME!), who worked on City as well as Middle of Nowhere, shoots black people better than anyone working now. Gurira and de Bankole are both pretty dark, yet they and everyone else in this film look so luminous. The play of light and shadow on their skin make them look like they stepped off a magazine cover, and the colors are used judiciously, bright but never overwhelming. Dosunmu might be a little too fond of in-and-out focusing sometimes, but it's okay.

First-time screenwriter Darci Picoult's script knows just how much to reveal and how much to leave to the imagination, and as a result, it keeps you engaged in the story. You have to pay attention if you wanna know what's going on. At the same time, it doesn't get in the way of the startling visuals, since Dosunmu is very much a visual director.

Mother has it all, folks. Easily one of the best movies I'm likely to see all year, and if it can catch fire the way Nowhere did last year, you're gonna hear a whole lot more about it. It's due to come out in September.

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