For fighting flexibly for their human rights and dignity, Iranian women were aptly named Time magazine’s Heroes of the Year in 2022. Their horrific rebellion began last fall, when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini was arrested by the morality police for not fully complying with the government’s outdated dress code and died in police custody three days later. Set in an Australian town in the ’90s, writer-director Noura Niasari’s quietly powerful “Maybe” has no direct connection to recent events. But one can’t help but see the same strength and heroic spirit in the film’s titular protagonist, a young Iranian woman who escapes the shadow of her oppressive husband, and demands a life independent of patriarchal norms and rules on her own terms. Behavior that suffocates his existence.
If “Maybe” (with Cate Blanchett among its executive producers) is too predictable at times and reaches the end, you can find out from the first act, because the playbook of the male abuser is often predictable too. In this regard, we know about Shayda’s husband in real life and from “I, Tonya” to “Herself” to “Custody” in various American and international films. We are familiar with the patterns in which these people behave, intimidate, game the system and somehow manage to convince the authorities that they have changed and, therefore, deserve a new chance. Not unlike some of the headlines mentioned above, “maybe” shows when new opportunities are offered to such violent abusers, who often have no intention or ability to relinquish their rights.
Still, there’s hope for Shaidar (horror czar Amir Ibrahimi, recent Cannes winner “Holy Spider”) at the start of the film. We meet her as she settles into a secret women’s shelter with her adorable young daughter Mona (seven-year-old Selina Zahednia, remarkably adept), an observant character based on the filmmaker’s own experiences: she, too, was raised by one. A brave mother who found shelter in such a center when Niasari was just five years old. Under the protective wing of the home’s generous and no-nonsense director Joyce (Lea Purcell), Shayda puts up a brave face for the charming Mona and claims small pockets of sanity and self-worth in her everyday life. On the one hand, he is preparing for the arrival of Nowruz (Persian New Year); On the other hand, he tries to integrate himself with the other residents of the asylum, despite occasionally being subjected to casual racism and prejudice.
In sensitively rendered scenes, we witness Shayda’s phone calls to her distraught mother in Iran: old-fashioned but concerned, she insists that Shayda return to her husband Hossein (Osamah Sami) to avoid further gossip and ill will from narrow-minded friends and relatives “At least he’s a good dad,” she insists ignorantly. Strangely enough, the law conforms to this toxic line of thinking, granting Hossein – who is adamant about returning to Iran – unsupervised visitation rights that derail Shayda’s newfound sense of freedom and security. At first, Hussain commits to a false image of a new and improved man who just wants to be with his family and support the dreams of his wife, a former academic with a scholarship sadly held back by conservative norms. But Shaydai knows better than to survive sexual violence at the hands of Hussain. And so do we.
Niasari humbly and steadily deepens “Maybe” with a filmmaking style that bears the marks of a documentarian’s off-the-cuff vigilance, braiding it with thriller-like qualities. The opening of the film is a perfect example of this, with DP Sherwin Akbarzadeh’s fluid and immersive camera movements. the truth-Intensity of style, as Shayda tries to familiarize Mona with various security touch-points at an airport when Hussain tries to kidnap her. Elsewhere, the filmmaker similarly makes sure that the idea of Hussain feels as terrifying as his portrayal, as we trace Shayda’s growing discomfort across malls, parks and nightclubs as she opens up to her freed friend Eli (Rina Mousavi) and develops feelings for Eli. . Relative Farhad (Majin Aria).
Along with the other troubled women in the shelter, these two characters seem somewhat underdeveloped, restructured into a complex narrative as clear spokespeople. But Ebrahimi overcomes these minor flaws, with a performance that is deceptively simple, even majestic, conveying Shayda’s inner battles through small moments, nothing more than a subtle look or a pregnant silence. Equally impressive is Jahednia as the wordlessly traumatized Mona – Niasari clearly has a special way with child actors – and Sami, a villain both curdled and disturbingly familiar. “Maybe”‘s greatest asset is its incredibly feminine spirit of persistence, which runs wild and free on this promising debut.