It’s not often you feel a filmmaker’s unmistakable presence from the moment a film begins. It takes about 60 seconds before the elegant “Mother of George” has you firmly inside the world it has created.
The opening is a traditional Nigerian wedding. Family members and friends fill a hotel banquet room for the marriage of ravishing Adenike (Danai Gurira) and her decades-older groom, Ayodele (Isaach de Bankole). It’s a gorgeous ceremony, with robes and head wraps in dazzling textiles of violet and tangerine and summer-sky blue. Ayodele’s mother, Ma Ayo (Bukky Ajayi), declares her fervent wish for a grandson named George. Her forceful tone makes it clear that Adenike should proceed with all due haste. Having won our attention with lush visual beauty, Nigerian-born director Andrew Dosunmu captures our curiosity.
The story is set in an African immigrant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Ayodele runs a small restaurant with his younger brother, Biyi (Tony Okungbowa). Ma Ayo arrives 18 months after the honeymoon, frustrated that Adenike has not borne her son a child. She presses Adenike to save the marriage by letting Biyi impregnate her. “It’s the same blood,” the mother-in-law declares.
The engrossing film would be unimaginable without such formidable actors. Gurira, the Macalester grad best known for the TV hit “The Walking Dead,” has an almost telepathically expressive face. The veteran De Bankole plays his repressed, withholding character in a manner that draws us closer. Dosunmu, a onetime fashion photographer, uses subtly off-kilter framing and shallow depth of field to express characters’ emotional states in the ways they are juxtaposed or placed within the film frame. The film tells its story without force-feeding us exposition because Dosunmu communicates so much visually.