Sunday, October 02, 2016

The Needless Blur

Normally I say I'm content with a film if it's beautiful. It can have a lousy screenplay but if it looks fantastic, I still have a nice time. Not so with 2013's Mother of George, a film with gorgeous cinematography that feels frustratingly disconnected from its characters.

A Nigerian couple, whom we meet at the beginning of the film, struggle to conceive a child with no success. The husband, Ayodele (Issach de Bankole), is unwilling to see a doctor because he feels it's an insult to his manhood. So the wife, Adenike, played by The Walking Dead's Danai Gurira, is forced to look for another solution.

Gurira is given more to do in this movie than in season three of The Walking Dead but less than in season five. Shots of her in particular, though she's on screen more than anyone else, seem designed to keep the audience at a distance. The film continually frames heads in profile on the extreme right or left, facing off-screen, replying to people we can't see, often starting in the middle of conversations. There are a lot of slow motion shots of faces without context and the filmmakers feel a need to check in with Gurira's ass routinely.

Although traditionally in Yoruba culture a man can have multiple wives, particularly in the case where the first wife isn't getting pregnant, and this custom is brought up, it's unclear why the couple are unwilling to go this route. Adenike also wants her own job so that she can have "her own money". It's unclear what has influenced her to take this non-traditional initiative. We learn so little about her but the movie spends a lot of time on an incident where she spills something on her shirt and her friend talks her into buying a translucent blouse to replace it. Adenike is very self-conscious and Ayodele doesn't approve.

The main plot of the film goes on to concern trouble with Ayodele's brother, Biyi (Tony Okungbowa). But so much information about the trouble is given only after the main, catastrophic plot points that, again, we're kept at a remove from the experience of the characters. Altogether, the feeling one has watching the film is like looking through a stalker's photo album. There's a voyeuristic quality to it that doesn't fit the story. Supposedly director Andrew Dosunmu is from Nigeria though all his credits for the past thirty years are from the U.S. and France. The movie certainly doesn't feel like it was made by someone who regards Nigerian people or culture as familiar.

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