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Review: Karen Cinorre’s Mayday Is a Feminist Polemic That Doesn’t Go in for the Kill

The film circles a thorny premise, which makes it all the more disappointing that it results in a conventional clinch.

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Mayday
Photo: Magnolia Pictures

Ana (Grace Van Patten), the protagonist of writer-director Karen Cinorre’s Mayday, has more than one reason to want to forget the world she lives in. She sleeps in her car and works at a banquet hall constantly affected by power outages. As she helps set up for a wedding one day, Ana is persistently harassed by her abusive boss (Frano Mašković), and when she briefly steps away from her duties to show the nervous bride (Mia Goth) to the bathroom, she faces his violent wrath. But then the lights suddenly go out and she escapes his clutches to the kitchen, where she travels through the looking glass—or, in this case, an illuminated oven—into a parallel world that’s full of telling details and all sorts of promise.

It’s there that Ana, her memory of her prior life all but vanished, finds herself navigating a feminist dreamscape that could have been sprung by Lucile Hadzihalilovic. After coming upon a beach, she encounters the bride from the wedding, now a tough guerilla fighter named Marsha, who introduces Ana to the other members of her all-girl troop: reserved intellectual Gert (Soko) and youthfully buoyant Bea (Havana Rose Liu). Traveling back to the landlocked U-boat that serves as their home base, Ana learns that the women are involved in an endless war against WWII-fashioned soldiers who keep parachuting down onto the mysterious seaside environment that they preside over. Immediately identifying with this struggle against violent male oppression, Ana takes up arms alongside her new friends and joins the fight.

As several other people from Ana’s “real” world appear under new identities in the film’s fantasy world, including the banquet hall’s kindly cook (Zlatko Buric) and bathroom attendant (Juliette Lewis), Cinorre signals that this strange, anachronistic environment is a mirror version of the real world, only one where Ana can actually rage against men. At first, Ana is an enthusiastic participant in the war, becoming an expert sharp-shooter in the process, all while living freely and happily without the gendered social constraints that put limits on what she could previously do. When Marsha teaches Ana how to lure soldiers to impending doom on their terrain by seductively calling for help through their radio communications, it’s a captivating moment of the girls weaponizing their femininity to service a new world order.

That’s a potentially thorny premise, which makes it all the more disappointing that Mayday’s examination of the perils of the girls’ misandrist aims results in a conventional clinch, with Ana gradually uncovering the secret that the soldiers she’s fighting may not necessarily be as villainous as she’s been told. Memories of her former life also start flooding back in, coinciding with the re-emergence of her friendly banquet hall co-worker Dimitri (Théodore Pellerin) as a sympathetic voice transmitted over the radio signals that the women use to lure men to their deaths. It’s then that Ana starts looking for a way out of this suddenly constrictive environment, much to the chagrin of the increasingly militant Marsha.

It’s around this point that Mayday succumbs to a thudding literalness, as in the recurring dream motif of Ana driving through a tunnel and toward the light at the end of it—a light that she won’t reach until her clarity is finally restored. For as radical a vision as Cinorre initially seems to proffer, Ana’s realization that vengeful violence against men isn’t necessarily the answer, coupled with the resulting psychological ease with which she deals with this revelation, ensures that the film’s polemical air ends up feeling, well, airless.

Cast: Grace Van Patten, Mia Goth, Soko, Havana Rose Liu, Juliette Lewis, Théodore Pellerin, Frano Mašković, Zlatko Buric Director: Karen Cinorre Screenwriter: Karen Cinorre Distributor: Magnolia Pictures Running Time: 100 min Rating: NR Year: 2021

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