Cherien Dabis, “May in the Summer” (2013)

May comes back to Amman to organise her wedding with her Palestinian fiance. But his absence is enough for May’s mother, a now-born Evangelical Christian, to start playing with the insecurities of her daughter pressuring her to stop the wedding with her Muslim fiance. Meanwhile, Dalia and Yasmine, May’s two sisters, try to help her to make decisions adding some flavor to the movie as their characters and life styles could not be more different. May’s father, an American embassy worker who remarried a much younger woman, is enduring some health problems which will evidence some other emotional problems. In sum, a total family drama spiced up with some cardamom smell.

While the first 20 minutes are actually funny and smooth, the rhythm of the movie changes some when in the middle and becomes over dramatic and a bit heavy. Although, the story lines are well-knitted and the conflict knots are preserved, it tries too hard to convey human emotional conflict and the pauses are, for my taste, a bit too long. Nevertheless, it is one hour and a half of entertainment without any further intention, another comic drama with a sweet ending. On the technical page, I would underline the good photography and edition, and the soundtrack, partly composed by Mashru3a Leila. The interpretations of Cherien Dabis as May, and Hiam Abbas as Nadine, May’s mother, stand out probably because the rest of the characters are voided of emotional depth.

The best thing about this movie is the natural accuracy of the representation. Even if the movie is planed for an American audience, there are no cliches (except the over-religiousness of the mother, which also happens in the best families). You find yourself introduce to the small struggles of daily life in Jordan: the water cuts, the (re)start smoking, the overdose of family drama, the weirdness of jogging in the streets, etc. Interestingly, a number of scenes were shot very close to my own house in Mango Street (aka Omar Ibn Khattab), in Jabal Amman, so I can personally confirm the verisimilitude of the cats wondering in the garbage and the flocks of birds groomed and flying every afternoon. It could have very well be financed by the Ministry of Tourism as it offers unnecessary, but still wonderful, images of Wadi Rum and other attractions of the country.

Except for a couple of comments, the movie does not crack on the major topics represented always when talking about the middle east (read: religion, violence, or poverty). This normalises the region and facilitates the connection of the audience with the character breaking stereotypes and essential differences. Hence the clubs, the alcohol, the tennis courts, the nice tourist resorts at the Dead Sea… Jordan is not depicted as the Hashemite Kingdom of Boredom and I think the movie does a very good job describing the city as the quite, calm and safe environment that it is.

Of course, this applies only to the middle-high class families in Amman which send their kids to English-speaking international schools and then to a US college. But this was always the intention of Cherien Dabis. Migration and return is part of this narrative where the border between the self and the other is very subtly questioned. After living more than a decade in New York, May and her sisters re-encounter the meddler family, the cat-calls, the falafel places, the expensive prices… everything is expected, but yet surprising.

Another great achievement of May in the Summer is the spontaneity of the multilingualism of this up-scale Ammani society. Arabic and English flow very well depending on the given scene, and the worst nightmare of not-quite-insider returnees, their linguistic skills, resurfaces every time they are addressed in their native language. Internationalism is a very interesting issue in this tiny piece of land, a place where everyone dreams of escaping but everyone, like May, eventually returns.

Summarising, May in the Summer is an interesting movie to have a good idea about life in Jordan, and although the emotional tension is not perfectly unfolded, it does its job in telling a story. Overall value: good borderline with notable.

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