Imaginatively conceived but indifferently executed, Zeinabu Davis’ “Compensation” is the kind of modestly produced labor of love that occasionally finds a receptive audience at film fests and other noncommercial venues. Theatrical prospects are bleak, but venturesome cable viewers might take notice of this rare black-and-white-lensed feature.
Taking its title and tone from the 1906 poem by African-American writer Paul Laurence Dunbar, “Compensation” interweaves two tragic love stories set nearly a century apart in Chicago. Each drama involves a deaf woman and a man with normal hearing, and both couples are played by the same actors: Michelle A. Banks (a hearing-impaired thesp) and John Earl Jelks. One narrative, rendered in the style of silent cinema, follows the sweetly tentative relationship between an ambitious young seamstress and an illiterate migrant worker. The other storyline , set in the 1990s, focuses on a deaf dancer who’s wooed by a handsome librarian. Banks and Jelks are ingratiating in their dual roles, but Marc Arthur Chery’s script is schematic and predictable in devising unhappy endings. Obviously restricted by a pinchpenny budget, Davis works hard to make a virtue of necessity by using still photos and silent film title cards to evoke period flavor. But sound quality is, to put it charitably, uneven.