A Foreign Affair, by David Bax
Andrew Dosunmu’s Mother of George begins with a shot of a black man walking down a New York City street. Other than the fact that the camera is tracking him, there’s very little about him that might draw your attention. Countless men walk these same streets all the time. What follows, though, is what will catch your eye. A wedding scene, detailing this same man’s nuptials with young Adenike (Danai Gurira), presumably takes place in the same city but is beautifully, entrancingly otherworldly in its depiction of Nigerian customs that may as well be extraterrestrial to the average American viewer, which is what I am. That captivating and compelling sense of otherness is what makes Mother of George worth watching but it’s also what makes it less than successful.
Adenike is the protagonist here and the film follows her during the first eighteen months or so of her marriage. As per tradition, she is expected to begin having babies immediately. She’d very much like to do so, as well, but she can’t seem to get pregnant. This is the story of the stress of deep-seated obligations and of a world in which becoming a mother is more a choice than a predestination.
Between this film and Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, director of photography Bradford Young is likely to make a name for himself as a guy whose work makes dull movies less dull. His images are rich in their depth of field as well as of color and they feel fully considered without being distractingly precious. The choices he makes also bolster the motif of spotlighting the characters uniqueness. He pulls the colors of Adenike’s patterned dresses to the forefront while deepening the very blackness of her skin.
Dosunmu and editor Oriana Soddu are clearly fans of Young’s work as well, since they choose to let each shot linger. The film’s laconic cadence is enchanting at first but eventually the pace begins to betray the thinness of the material.
That staleness wears off in the final act when secrets are revealed and characters are forced into instinctive and human actions. The problem with the film’s middle section is that Dosunmu is unable to make Adenike’s dilemmas relatable, triggered as they are by traditions that he’s gone out of the way to depict as foreign. Mother of George makes such an effort to point out how different his characters are from the culture in which the film is being seen, he ends up making them unreachable.