If there’s any justice, Queen Of Glory will be a head-turning directorial debut for writer/director/star Nana Mensah. It’s part love-letter to her heritage as a Ghanaian-American woman, part rumination on grief and life, part drily funny musing on Millennial angst, and every bit a typical New-York-indie kind of film. It’s beautifully shot on 35mm with an earthy palette and lots of autumnal colours, brownstone stoops and suburban streets — but Mensah’s empathetic touch makes everything feel lived-in.
With considerable poise and presence, she plays Sarah, directing herself as a listless academic going nowhere. At work, she is quite literally working on the cure for cancer; at home, she is pursuing an obviously doomed extramarital affair and mocked by multiple aunties wondering when she’ll finally have babies and lose some weight. Mensah’s performance alone feels noteworthy: an exercise in measure and control, she perfectly deadpans her way through moments of mild catastrophe, a groundswell of emotion just below the surface.
What’s so impressive here is the care and attention Mensah affords all her characters.
When Sarah’s mother dies suddenly, Sarah’s life has to be recalibrated, having inherited a Christian bookshop she neither wants nor understands. As an atheist scientist, she’s ready to sell up as soon as possible, but life has other plans. What’s so impressive here is the care and attention Mensah affords all her characters, from the heavily face-tattooed ex-con co-worker who surpasses Sarah’s early prejudices, to the old ladies who use the bookshop as a place of community.
The film delicately explores the immigrant experience and questions of identity — Sarah organises both a traditional Ghanaian funeral and a “white people’s funeral” — and there are some lovely scenes with childhood family friends with Russian heritage, a similar-but-different experience of the New York melting-pot. But it wears these themes lightly, prioritising its characters over any kind of ‘message’. This is more a film to be felt than analysed. By the emotional end, it is felt very deeply indeed.