The May Lady

English Title: The May Lady

Original Title: Banoo-ye Ordibehesht

Country of Origin: Iran

Studio: Peiman Film

Director: Rakhshan Bani Etemad

Producer(s): Jahangir Kosari, Alireza Ra'isian

Screenplay: Rakhshan Bani Etemad

Cinematographer: Hossein Jafarian

Editor: Mostafa Kherghehpoosh, Masoomeh Shahnazari

Runtime: 88 minutes

Starring/Cast: Fatemeh Motamed Arya, Nayyereh Farahani, Baran Kosari, Ramin Rastad, Golab Adineh, Minoo Farshchi, Mani Kasra'ian, Leila Mo'ini, Atefeh Razavi

Year: 1998

Volume: Iranian

Frough, a 42-year-old single mother and a documentary film-maker is successful in her film career, but faces problems in her private life. She is divorced and thinking about starting a new relationship with Dr Rahbar, a widowed man living with his daughter. But Forough’s teenage son Mani is reluctant to accept his mum’s relationship with another man in the absence of his father. This results in a covert war of nerves between mother and son. Forough’s life changes drastically when she meets Dr Rahbar. He proposes to her to get married but she finds it hard to accept.
In the meantime Frough’s latest commission is to make a documentary film on ‘the ideal mother’. She surrounds herself with videotapes on which women talk about the social problems they experience, such as the painful consequences of the war with Iraq. Meanwhile, her son is put in jail for being in a birthday party and fighting a basiji (a member of Iran’s paramilitary force) and she tries to set him free. The differences with Frough’s feelings become painfully apparent. While making the film, she experiences an upheaval and overcomes her hesitation about marrying Dr Rahbar.

The May Lady is completely different from Bani-Etemad 's previous works. Her previous films were based on the renovation of real places and consisted of long chapters that in each of them time and place continuity has been kept. But in The May Lady, Bani-Etemad has tried a form of edited cinema and her film has been made based on the interweaving of three groups of pictures and a combination of these pictures with the inner monologues of the film’s protagonist and the voice of the man who is in love with her and writes her letters. As a whole Bani-Etemad's new work could technically be evaluated positively. This centres on the continuity of the pictures; the transmission from one group of pictures to another is so smooth and justifiable.
Besides she has done a good job in her choice of cast and style of directing. There is no over-acting from her amateur actors; however it does not mean that do not act. Here there is a good combination of the use of the appearance and incognito of the amateur actress and her ability to act so delicately and sensitively. Particularly, Minoo Farshchi has been successful in playing those special moments in the life of a career woman who is involved in an emotional crisis. The film shows her tiredness and weakness and the typical life of a female film-maker, like Forough behind camera, while doing household chores or driving. Her relationship with her son (Mani) comes across as real and caring, especially in the scene when Forough is so exhausted that she goes to sleep on the sofa and Mani takes her shoes off.
At a deeper level, Bani-Etemad's inability to elevate social issues to a humane and philosophical level leads to the film’s weakness. The contrast between the character's private life and her maternal role on the one hand, and her career as a film director on the other, is never put in to question seriously. This is also true for the contrast between her comfortable life and the women who are the topics of her films; in other words the main contributors to her success. The autumn atmosphere of the story is in concordance with the woman's poetic and romantic mental status.
The director's ability in this film is remarkable but from a dramatic point of view it is considered a weak one. From the story's events it is not at all easy to understand how this woman can make up her mind about the continuation of her relationship with the man (Dr Rahbar) she is in love with and then come to a clear and definite conclusion. Dr Rahbar's very poetic tonale in his letters to his beloved prevents us from recognizing his real intentions and the existing problems in their relationship. Their conversations never turn into a dramatic force in their relationship, which highlights their inability to make choices and makes Frough’s anxieties real. Although the high volume of female interviewees' videos discussing their problems, are relevant to Frough’s maternal status, they do not reveal Forough's feelings towards these issues and the destitute people. We never find out what she thinks about her video's subjects. Does it ever happen that she hates them or wants to continue her own life and get away from them for a while? Does living a rich life provoke guilt − are these women just there to help her make money and reach prosperity? The May Lady never questions such issues and that is why any real sense of crisis and psychological disturbance is never fully felt in this film.
Simplifying complicated issues is the main flaw of the film. For instance, it could be asked whether the sanctification of the mother that the film is based on, contradicts with Frough’s right to fall in love and enjoy her own personal life that has been granted to her through her career as a film-maker. The May Lady does not explore the complexities of such issues.

Author of this review: Robert Safarian