Mother of George
Directed by Andrew Dosunmu
At the risk of stating the obvious, gorgeous costume design—and the ability to photograph it worth a damn—isn’t some frivolous extra in cinema, though its worth sometimes seems overlooked. The beauty of color, fabric, pattern, and line is a front-and-center concern for Nigerian-born fashion photographer turned filmmaker Andrew Dosunmu, and in the past month, he’s joined Brian De Palma and Wong Kar-wai in exulting unabashedly in that sensual pleasure of attractive, well-dressed actors. Following up on the (smartly attired) street hustle of 2011’s Restless City, Dosunmu opens Mother of George with a resplendent wedding, a traditional array of headwraps and robes in tyrian blue, peach and gold filling the widescreen frame (as shot by Bradford Young).
Adenike (Danai Gurira), somewhat frustrated as a housewife, and restaurant owner Ayodele (Isaach De Bankolé) are the bride and groom, rooted in their Crown Heights Nigerian immigrant community with all that entails: support and the deep well of culture and tradition, but also the tremendous pressure to have children, which seems to be the one thing this touchingly devoted couple cannot do. Dosunmu, in off-center compositions and overly telegraphic dramatic scenes, suggests how this absence affects family expectations, Ayodele’s head-of-household identity, and Adenike’s bottled-up freedoms, especially when a terrible bargain is struck.
But suggestion is mostly what Dosunmu does: as in Restless City, he often seems averse to let these dramas play out in full. Slow-motion bumper shots of bedizened characters making their way down the street, or glimpses of tense emotional aftermath can’t add up to a probing portrayal of the characters, who feel arrayed (along with a couple of outbursts) amid the fabrics. Dosunmu continues to dazzle us with how he outfits his actors, but it still remains for him to direct them with equivalent panache.
Opens September 13