May in the Summer

99 Minutes - Director Cherien Dabis

Much of the news from the Middle East today is saturated with violence, ethnic and religious hatred and the wholesale destruction of civil societies. So it is very refreshing to see a comedy from the Middle East that deals with the tension between tradition and modernity and the friction between Muslims and Christians in a perceptive but humorous way. May in the Summer may not have offered any long-term solutions to the violent conflicts in the region, but it did show that not all Arabs settle their problems with car bombs and AK 47s.

May is a Jordanian Christian who moved to New York where she has become a successful writer. She gets engaged to a Palestinian Muslim who teaches economics at Colombia – and they decide to have their wedding back in Amman, the Jordanian capital. Then things start to get complicated. May’s mother does not want her daughter to marry outside their Christian faith (“I don’t have a religion,” says her mother. “I have the truth.”) Her relatives chime in with jokes about who might go to hell. May goes jogging through the streets of Amman dressed as she would for a jog through Central Park – except in Jordan this attracts wolf whistles and leers all along the street. Her American father has divorced her mother and is now married to a younger Indian woman, who tries to ingratiate herself with her new stepdaughters who are the same age as her. The cross-cultural misadventures of wedding planning with billowing white dresses and cakes and ornate reception rooms pile on to make the planned nuptials feel like a fragile structure ready to come crashing down. And then one of May’s sisters announces very publicly that she is gay, in a society where coming out is almost unheard of.

Revelations, recriminations, apologies – in the end the family members hold together, and the seemingly impossible is resolved through conversation and concession. And with the beautiful background views of Amman and the desert of Wadi Rum in the south of Jordan, the film is a welcome counterweight to many of the other images we are served from the Middle East.