I cannot get the film Where is Kyra? out of my mind. I saw it on Saturday night as part of the BAM Cinemafest programme, and it had been one of the films I wanted to see at Sundance earlier this year, but just couldn’t make the scheduling work out. I’m learning more and more that things happen when they need to, so it seemed like Saturday’s screening was the right time to catch the film.
I went with my friend Mathoto Matsetela, who was once an actress in Yizo Yizo, the critically-acclaimed youth drama series Andrew Dosunmu used to direct when he was in South Africa. The Nigerian-born director has since then cemented his reputation, based here in the US, with Restless City and Mother of George – films that paint vivid portraits of identity and desperation, through his fruitful collaboration with cinematographer Bradford Young. For Where is Kyra? Dosunmu re-teamed with both Young and South African composer Philip Miller, who consistently adds his voice to some of the best films coming out of the country.
I think that’s part of the reason I can’t seem to get the film out of my mind – the music and the images left their mark on me. The sharp, staccato audio illustrations of the lead character’s state of mind, combined with the bleak yet striking way her world is visually composed in the film made quite the impression. It’s the story of a woman in her 50s who returns home to New York to look after her ailing mother, but cannot find a job to survive and is pushed to an utter extreme out of her despair. Michelle Pfeiffer is excellent in this role – Dosunmu told us later it was her first indie part, and they shot the film in 17 days. She gives it so much, immersing herself into a woman, past her so-called prime, whose face has etched into it memories of being married and employed and part of the normal running of life, who now just doesn’t know what to do.
As we go along with Kyra’s job search and the half-hearted relationship that’s unfolding with holding-down-two-jobs Doug (Kiefer Sutherland), we see what it’s like to age in a city that requires non-stop energy to keep going. Dosunmu said he wanted to ask what it’s like to grow old here, in a society where people don’t really honour their elders, and many of them end up being kept pretty much out of sight. It made me think of the old people I see on the streets of NYC, slowly pushing their shopping carts or hobbling from one corner to another. Dosunmu spoke about the cultural differences in how the elderly are perceived in Nigeria, where aging is celebrated, versus what he’s come to see here in the US.
There’s another reason the film struck such a chord. It’s because I’ve come so close to that desperation that I saw in Kyra’s – Pfeiffer’s – eyes. Living in this city, where I’m a freelancer subject to the whims of whenever people see fit to pay my invoices has put me in many a tough financial situation, and it’s a terrible feeling. I’ve never had to resort to Pfeiffer’s methods but she and Dosunmu touch that nerve so closely that it’s unsettling. Luckily, I still have enough energy to keep bouncing from my setbacks. Dosumnu’s film will no doubt inspire empathy and a little more compassion towards those who perhaps don’t.
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