Mother of George

Simply relating the narrative of Andrew Dosunmu's seductive immigrant drama "Mother of George" would do little to convey the film's stark, poetic power, much less its extraordinary visual and sonic acumen.

With: Danai Gurira, Isaach De Bankole, Yaya Alafia, Tony Okungbowa, Bukky Ajayi, Angelique Kidjo. (English, Yoruba dialogue)

Simply relating the narrative of Andrew Dosunmu’s seductive immigrant drama “Mother of George” would do little to convey the film’s stark, poetic power, much less its extraordinary visual and sonic acumen. Steeping the audience from the very first frame in the rich textures and bustling rhythms of Brooklyn’s Yoruba community, Dosunmu doesn’t use such iridescent local color merely to dress up this classically structured melodrama about a young wife driven to social ruin by infertility, but to provide a suitably prismatic context for the character’s fluid moods. Singular pic should bewitch auds worldwide on the festival circuit, coaxing refined arthouse distribution.

A former fashion photographer and Yves Saint Laurent design assistant, Nigerian-born Dosunmu made a strong impression in Park City two years ago with his freshman feature, “Restless City,” which lived up to its title in its swirling depiction of the African immigrant experience in New York City. In that regard, “Mother of George” is very much of a piece with Dosunmu’s debut, though the script by American playwright-performer Darci Picoult, inspired by a personal testimony overheard on her travels, lends it a greater sense of emotional consequence.

Popular on Variety

The film opens at the swarming traditional wedding ceremony of Adenike (incandescent Zimbabwean actress Danai Gurira, best known for her recurring role on “The Walking Dead”) to mild-mannered restaurant proprietor Ayodele (Isaach De Bankole). At the close of the evening, Ayodele’s abrasive mother (Bukky Ajayi) formally names the couple’s unconceived child George — a traditional blessing that comes to seem a cruel curse when, after 18 months of trying, Adenike is still without child.

With few confidantes beyond her loving but distracted husband and her more worldly sister-in-law Sade (a superb Yaya Alafia), the desperate Adenike is in a sufficiently fragile mental state to consider her mother-in-law’s suggestion that Ayodele’s brother Biyi (Tony Okungbowa) father the child in secret. “A baby belongs to all of us,” she intones, rather ominously.

Accepting Adenike’s behavior from this point forward may be a leap for some viewers, but the bruised dignity of Gurira’s remarkable performance is consistently credible, while Picoult is at pains to illustrate the alternative moral playing field of a culture where Ayodele is entitled to take a second wife who can deliver him a child. Much classic African literature, including works by Ousmane Sembene and Mariama Ba, has covered this thematic terrain, but it’s both bracing and galling to see it play out in a contemporary Western context.

Dosunmu subtly uses the film’s ornate design elements to illustrate Adenike’s state of cultural flux, flooding the screen with jewel-colored African textiles to the point that their lavish patterns seem somehow reproachful, while Mobolaji Dawodu’s dazzling costumes slide tellingly across the spectrum from hip Afro-chic couture to fussy traditional garb.

But the star of the technical team — perhaps even of the entire film — is d.p. Bradford Young, whose highly particular compositions and shimmering ochre-to-cobalt lighting schemes are almost exhaustingly exquisite. Young, whose notable credits also include “Pariah” and “Middle of Nowhere,” is currently unrivaled in the under-informed field of illuminating darker complexions, expertise that “Mother of George” can claim in more areas than just its cinematography.

Mother of George

Production: A Parts & Labor, Ajiwe Fun Orisha presentation, in association with Maybach Film Prods., Simonsays Entertainment, Little Minx, Unit & Sofa S.R.O., Tiny Dancer Films. Produced by Lars Knudsen, Jay Van Hoy, Matt Parker, Carly Hugo, Darci Picoult, Chris Maybach, Saemi Kim, Patrick Cunningham, Tony Okungbowa. Executive producers, Saerom Kim, Ron Simon, Rhea Scott, Fady Salame, Laura Bernieri, Jerry Tankersley, Joseph Sorrentino, Isaach De Bankole, Andre Des Rochers, David Raymond, Jawal Nga. Directed by Andrew Dosunmu. Screenplay, Darci Picoult.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Bradford Young; editor, Oriana Soddu; music, Philip Miller; production designer, Lucio Seixas; costume designer, Mobolaji Dawodu; sound, Eric Branting; re-recording mixers, Eli Cohn; visual effects supervisor, Jeremy Newmark; line producer, Tim Duff; associate producers, Lucas Joaquin, Lisa Harun, Leah Gardiner, Kamilla Forbes; assistant director, Bruce Hall; casting, Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 18, 2013. Running time: 106 MIN.

With: With: Danai Gurira, Isaach De Bankole, Yaya Alafia, Tony Okungbowa, Bukky Ajayi, Angelique Kidjo. (English, Yoruba dialogue)

More Film

  • Cannes VR

    Cannes Film Festival Plots Major Expansion to VR Program

    Cannes XR, the Marché du Film’s program dedicated to immersive and augmented reality content, is set to expand. For its second edition, Cannes XR has partnered with tech creator Positron and Brogent Technologies to introduce a new VR theater, dedicated space and competition. While keeping its 700-square meter exhibition space in the basement of Cannes’ [...]

  • The Italian Recipe

    Europe-China Co-Prod 'The Italian Recipe' Immune to Coronavirus (EXCLUSIVE)

    With production in China suffering a coronavirus-imposed slowdown, “The Italian Recipe” is one co-production between Europe and China that is poised to potentially capitalize on the resulting dearth of Chinese content. It is positioned to advance European cinema’s efforts to make inroads in China. “The Italian Recipe,” in which a famous Chinese pop singer travels [...]

  • Csaba Kael

    Hungarian Film Commissioner Csaba Kael on His Ambitious Plans for 'Hollywood on the Danube'

    Just months after assuming the role of Hungarian film commissioner, Csaba Káel has designs on revamping the film and television industries to boost content development and production, expand already formidable studio facilities, and become a lynchpin for film and TV production and servicing that extends far beyond Budapest. Káel took up his post in September, [...]

  • Claire Denis attends the 32nd European

    Claire Denis and Phedon Papamichael Join Doha Film Institute's Qumra Lineup

    The Doha Film Institute has added French auteur Claire Denis and Oscar-nominated cinematographer Phedon Papamichael (“Nebraska”) to the lineup of star talent who will act as mentors for the Qumra Masters program during its upcoming Qumra event dedicated to fostering fresh Arab film fare that is opening up to TV projects. They join previously announced [...]

  • Persian Lessons Russian Cinema

    'Persian Lessons': Film Review

    In “Schindler’s List,” most of the actors spoke English, using accents to indicate their characters’ origins. In “Son of Saul,” the cast struggles to communicate in a mish-mosh of languages, as Jews of different nationalities were thrown together in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Stories about the Holocaust — so vital in trying to reconcile the horrors of the [...]


    Beta Cinema Celebrates ‘Karnawal’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Beta Cinema has acquired international sales rights to debut Argentine director Juan Pablo Félix’s “Karnawal,” winner of the Le Film Français, Ciné Plus, Gomedia and Titrafilm awards at December’s Ventana Sur. “Karnawal” featured co-producers from five countries: Argentina’s Bikini Films, Brazil’s 3 Moinhos Produçoes, Chile’s Picardía Films, Mexico’s Phototaxia Pictures, Norway’s Norsk Filmproduksjon and Bolivia’s [...]

  • Italian Xmas movie

    Italy's True Colours Scores Slew of Early EFM Sales (EXCLUSIVE)

    Italian sales company True Colours has scored multiple sales at the EFM on several titles including Christmas comedy “Once Upon a Time in Bethlehem,” which was Italy’s top-grossing domestic title in 2019. “Bethlehem,” which scored roughly $17 million domestically, toplines comic duo Ficarra and Picone as a thief and a priest who time-travel to Palestine [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content