Black Mother

 

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An offbeat portrayal of life in Jamaica that succeeds against the odds.

 
Black Mother

  

Khalik Allah's Black Mother is a very distinctive film and one that in theory might well have irked me. In practice, however, while it may not appeal to everyone, it works very well on its own terms. It is definitely Allah's film since he is the photographer and editor as well as being the director and a co-producer. What makes it so unusual is that as a portrait of Jamaica today it does not always attempt to match up the images we see with the many voices heard on the soundtrack. On occasion we may feel that what is being said in voice over is related to a person seen on the screen but far more often the connection is less direct or even non-existent.

 

This is an approach which, maintained throughout, makes it all the more difficult to give the material a sense of shape. As though to combat that, Black Mother, having started out with a shot of a naked woman who is pregnant, is presented as a work in three sections. They are described as trimesters so that each portion impliedly takes us three months nearer to the birth that concludes the film. This final segment is less fragmented than what precedes it since it features longer sequences with the birth episode preceded by a death leading into a detailed funeral service. However, the stylised procedure remains intact so that words of encouragement as the woman gives birth are accompanied by visuals of the outdoors (in fact the emphasis on flowing water becomes a metaphor for the continuation of life as birth follows death thus allowing the film at its climax a sense of poetic unity).

 

Despite the division into three sections, there is nothing that truly distinguishes the first part from the second (prostitution is touched on in both, for example, and the spiritualism inherent in Jamaicans whether Christians or Rastafarians results in all three segments containing much of a religious nature). Since the voices heard are anonymous, we cannot always be certain that a view expressed is valid and not a reflection of personal prejudice. Indeed, much here might suggest a work better suited to being an art gallery installation not necessarily viewed complete, but in fact Black Mother succeeds as a cinema film despite the dangers inherent in the style in which it is presented. It's not chance that Allah is a noted still photographer and his images here are splendidly vivid - indeed, be it the urban rat race with its poverty or the beauties of the Jamaican countryside, the pictures are richly atmospheric. The use of unaccompanied songs from time to time adds to that sense while in his role as editor Allah ensures that nothing goes on for too long (the running length of 77 minutes is an appropriate one). Consequently, the unusual style (already used by Allah in previous works it would appear) succeeds to a far greater extent than I had anticipated: the approach has its dangers undoubtedly, but this film comes from the heart.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Featuring  Residents of Jamaica.

 

Dir Khalik Allah, Pro Khalik Allah and Leah Giblin, Ph Khalik Allah, Ed Khalik Allah.

 

Cinereach-Dogwoof.
77 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 2 November 2018. Cert. 15.