Title: Mother of George
Director: Andrew Dosunmu
Screenwriter: Darci Picoult
Cast: Danai Gurira, Isaach De Bankolé, Yaya DaCosta Alafia, Tony Okungbowa, Bukky Ajayi, Angelique Kidjo
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 8/29/13
Opens: September 13, 2013
Those of us with an interest in theater as well as in movies will likely compare Andrew Dosunmu’s “Mother of George” with Federico Garcia Lorca 1934 play “Yerma.” “Yerma,” which means “barren” in Spanish, tells the story of a childless woman living in rural Spain. Her desperate desire for motherhood becomes an obsession that eventually drives her to commit a horrific crime. Because of the time she is living in, she is expected to bear children. When she cannot, she is forced to take measures that even those in her society would view as extreme. If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, the anger from hell’s most fiery layer must be reserved for those of her gender whose lives center on their fervent desire for children.
This brings us to “Mother of George” directed by Andrew Dosunmu, whose “Restless City” in 2011 focuses on an African immigrant living on the fringes of New York. This time the director unfolds the tale of Adenike (Danai Jekesal Gurira), pestered daily by her mother-in-law Sade Bakare (Yaya Alafia) to produce a grandchild. The couple’s attempts to do so over a two-year period are shown graphically, but to no avail. Still, Adenike is not about to commit murder as did Garcia’s leading lady. Instead she tries to convince her husband, Ayodele (Isaach De Bankolé), coming from a macho Nigerian culture, to go to go to a clinic to test his own fertility. In a story taking place wholly within a West African neighborhood near Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, a marriage is put to the test when Adenike, not familiar with the rules of the game in the U.S., does not get herself tested since she believes the infertility is “probably my fault.” Kid or no kid, she loves her husband dearly, or at least her mother-in-law says so. She will come to a climactic decision that will make or break the marriage.
Bradford Young, who won Best Cinematographer during the year’s Sundance competition, photographs the characters with some originality. Though he sets his lenses wide in the opening scene, an extended look at the wedding of Adenike and Ayodele with characters in colorful African dress, major dramatic turns make his focus change exclusively on the pretty Adenike. He often keeps individuals who are conversing with her slightly off the screen. This serves the film well, as Iowa-born actress Danai Jekesai Gurira is adept at showing the full force of her fury, making us in the audience wonder whether she will kill either her husband or her mother-in-law. Just as in Spain during the Franco era, when a chaperone had to be present when a man and a woman would date, in the Nigerian culture—never mind that the action takes place wholly inside Brooklyn—the mothers-in-law are expected to be on hand to encourage and berate the unfortunate young women who have tried to take their sons away from them.
While Mr. De Bankolé is the best-known performer in this picture, having starred in the likes of “Chaos” as Vincent, who moves with his wife from Paris to the south of France only to have his marriage threatened by a student, this is Ms. Gurira’s movie. The stunning actress is able to show great love for her husband, repressed irritation at her husband’s mother, and a tsunami of fury when she is frustrated at her inability to produce a child, a child who, by the way, has already been named George by mom-in-law.
In the broad sense the film grants the audience a look at what most of us would consider an exotic culture, one that celebrates by feasting on goat (we see a goat actually being killed in one of Brooklyn’s authentic goat markets) and which tries to get by economically, in this case by running a small restaurant catering principally to people of African background.
Rated R. 107 minutes © 2013 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+