A visual astonishment but sometimes a drag dramatically, “Mother of George” is an experience of textural and cultural immersion. Director Andrew Dosunmu’s story takes place in Brooklyn, but it’s one we haven’t seen before. It’s the subculture of Nigerian immigrants, whose women wear stunning, colorful gowns and headdresses that turn parts of the borough into streams of exotic beauty.
Our focus is on young, docile Adenike, played by Danai Gurira, better known for portraying a very different character: the blade-slinging zombie reaper Michonne on AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” Her wedding to the older Ayodele (Isaach De Bankolé) kicks off the movie with a ceremony of such exquisite colors and shimmering lighting that you won’t want it to end.
Ayodele owns a restaurant, where he’s helped by his brother Biyi (Anthony Okungbowa). And while Adenike visits the place daily at lunchtime, bringing her husband home-cooked dishes, the appearance of a strong patriarchy is not exactly what it seems. The brothers may run their own business, but the larger shots tend to be called by their quiet but fearsome mother, Ma Ayo (Bukky Ajayi).
It’s she who forms a risky plan, after more than a year of observing her son’s childless marriage, to get Adenike pregnant in a way that pushes the movie into territory somewhere between melodrama and an old folk tale. The plot is so slim that I won’t say more about it. What happens is less important than how it’s presented onscreen — in long passages of silence, or underscored by street music or Strauss lieder, or in looming close-ups or fragmented scenes in which important characters never make it into the frame of the action. It’s very artful, but it can become a little wearing, especially at close to two hours long. (The cinematography is by Bradford Young, and it’s work of such dark, lustrous, saturated beauty that it often upstages the actors and the plot.)
“Mother of George” is worth a look, if not necessarily for its full running length. It shows that Dosunmu is a talented and interesting filmmaker, for sure. But at this stage, he may be more interested in being “interesting” than in delivering a story in ways that fully connect with the viewer.
“Mother of George.” With Danai Gurira, Isaach De Bankolé, Anthony Okungbowa, Yaya Alafia. Directed by Andrew Dosunmu. In English and Yoruba, with subtitles. Rated R. 107 minutes. At Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.