Mother of George is an intoxicating and mind-bending journey into another atmosphere of emotional testimony and cultural adaptation. Its slow motion, heavily textured and soft-focused beginning gradually builds to an unexpected climax that leaves the viewer internally unhinged and on a precipice, grasping for steady footing. All in all it’s a quiet and necessary addition to the cinematic canon, with a kind of understated inertia that is balanced and driven by a bold and harrowing storyline. It’s a film that stays with you on your walk from the Cinema Village Theater on East 12th Street (where Wendell Pierce, aka ‘Bunk’ from The Wire, was in attendance) down through the old but rapidly changing streets of the East Village, eventually leading you to the newly chic Lower East Side. As Balzac said, ‘the city changes faster than the human heart,’ and the film doesn’t prove him wrong. Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn may change quickly but tradition, love and Nigerian values do not choose to travel at the same pace.
In Mother of George, light, shadows and patterns are predominant. Thanks to the film’s director, Andrew Dosunmu, and his chief fashion consultant, Mobolaji Dawodu, style is king but it does not overpower. Rather, the many wardrobe changes of the main character, Adenike, wonderfully played by Danai Gurira, are on par with Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love – if Hong Kong took a road trip to Lagos that is. The film’s director Dosunmu, a dear friend and longtime colleague, has made a film that is both challenging and embracing, an arthouse contemplation on the true stuff of relationships, the turmoils of immigration and the bare essence of the human spirit.
It would be facile to say that Mother of George poses questions. More than that, it raises questions and refuses to offer clear answers. The closing shot is openly suggestive and for good reason. To my huge relief, Dosunmu trusted the audience enough to let us decide what ultimately transpired, a risky and confident challenge that is rarely seen in today’s cinema. I was reminded of certain of my favourite Claire Denis films, where the unscripted moments ultimately prove to be the most dynamic.
Dosunmu is still a young filmmaker with an explorative heart, but with this film he has established his name and his repertoire. To his credit, he has refused to follow the script, and by ‘unscripting’ the formula, he has announced his own style – slow, intuitive, interpretive, discerning, disarming, vulnerable and always with an innate sense of slow-burn swagger. The focus, at times frustratingly so, is on the physicality and pysche of his star players. From my point of view, Isaach De Bankolé, playing opposite Gurira as her husband Ayodele, is outstandingly low-key, dignified and convincing, while his on-screen wife is awash with pendular emotions that force you in and under her skin.
But the diva and foundation of the film is the eponymous forefront, the Mother, who suggests a both practical and somehow outlandish solution to the film’s central conflict. It arrives as a shocking and rather severe deliverance. If De Bankolé and his young wife whom he’s ‘worked so hard to bring here’ are unable to have a baby, another solution must be found. The mother proposes, no insists, on De Bankolé’s younger brother Biye as an alternative ‘resource’. All of the participating parties are troubled by this solution, save for De Bankolé himself who is left in the dark for his own protection.
The result is devastating but to Dosunmu’s credit, he ends his meditative oeuvre on an open note. You are left feeling neither heavy- nor light-hearted. Instead you are left riding a wave of billowing astonishment and internal upendedness. It’s like jazz – at times unforgiving and often fleeting but always holding that lasting note.