Mother of George is “a typical diaspora-blues tale that, in director Andrew Dosunmu’s hands, becomes a visually stunning portrait of Brooklyn’s Nigerian community,” writes Time Out New York‘s David Fear. “Adenike (Danai Gurira) has no sooner married Ayodele (veteran Franco-African actor Isaach De Bankolé) than the pressure to deliver grandkids starts kicking in; neither folk remedies nor fertility experts is helping her yield a baby. Afraid that, per tradition, her husband will start taking up with other women so as to produce an heir, Adenike finds herself heeding her mother-in-law’s suggestion: Sleep with Adenike’s younger brother (Tony Okungbowa), as ‘it’s the same blood.’ As with Dosunmu’s last film Restless City (2011), the filmmaker displays a knack for detailing rituals and cultural signifiers (that Yoruba wedding sequence!) in ways that are eye-poppingly gorgeous without feeling like grandstanding. It’s hard to think of a recent movie that’s made better use of shifting focal points as a formal trick to express alienation—with both her modern urban surroundings and old-world customs—or that’s displayed such delicate eroticism in its love scenes.”
That Yoruba wedding sequence is “worthy of Visconti,” comments the Voice‘s Scott Foundas, while the mother-in-law’s proposed solution to Adenike’s problem is “worthy of Greek tragedy, but one that Dosunmu and screenwriter Darci Picoult deploy with a minimum of melodrama and a maximum of psychological realism.”
“Accepting Adenike’s behavior from this point forward may be a leap for some viewers,” notes Guy Lodge in Variety, “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.”
“Bradford Young, cinematographer for Restless City as well as indie sensations Pariah and Middle of Nowhere, manages to heighten the human drama of the film with shots that experiment with the use of light and color in incredibly striking ways,” writes Zeba Blay in Shadow and Act.
The Hollywood Reporter‘s Todd McCarthy notes that Young “stresses tightly framed shots with very short focal lengths that shut out the wider world around his characters and emphasize the intense pressure on Adenike. The results are often striking on a shot-by-shot basis, but they don’t connect with one another in a way that flows or provides the film with a visual dynamic that progressively builds to something greater than its individual compositions. Instead, the film comes to feel flat, both in terms of its pictorial range and dramatic effect.”
“While this film may belong to the wonderfully expressive Gurira, her best scenes come from the loving relationship she shares with her superb co-star, Bankole, in a lovely, subtlety rendered performance,” writes Ioncinema‘s Eric Lavallee. “But whatever squabbles some may have with the simplicity of the pared down narrative, all will most certainly be enamored with some of the most gorgeous shot compositions they’ll see this year…. Mother of George is, exquisitely, cinema of the senses.”
Watch for MOTHER OF GEORGE @sundance Awards. I predict Best Director prize for strong visual storytelling of Andrew Dosunmu or JuryPrize win
— Anthony Kaufman (@antkaufman) January 20, 2013
Update, 1/27: Oscilloscope Laboratories has picked up North American rights, report Jay A. Fernandez and Anne Thompson at Indiewire.
Update, 2/3: In the Nashville Scene, Ron Wynn interviews Dosunmu and producer Matt Parker sends in a Sundance diary, describing “what it was like to shepherd a film through the meat market of one of the world’s highest-profile film festivals.”
Sundance 2013: Index to our reviews, reports, and coverage of the coverage. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @KeyframeDaily on Twitter and/or the RSS feed. Get Keyframe Daily in your inbox by signing in at fandor.com/daily.