An Iranian Fairytale

in 72nd Venice International Film Festival

by Quirijn Foeken

There are certain distinct features in most Iranian films which make it to Europe. They all seem to have excellent, understated direction and beautiful performances, as well as a firm stance in reality.          

Wednesday, May 9 (Chaharshanbeh, 19 Ordibehesht) is no exception in this regard. The film tells the story of a man who places a newspaper ad to announce he has a large sum of money to donate to a needy person. Readers can apply for it on the titular Wednesday. To the surprise of no-one but the man himself, hundreds of people show up at his office to tell their stories of sickness, misery and financial trouble.              

The movie is told in three parts. The first part focuses on a woman (Niki Karimi) with a very ill husband. It is not clear what his ailment is, but he is confined to a wheelchair and needs 15 million tonas for an operation, half of which the charitable man is offering. But although the husband has lost some of his bodily functions, he doesn’t appear to have lost his pride and he does not want his wife to apply for the money. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that the wife and the charitable donor were once lovers, over 20 years ago. One might view this part of the film as a social commentary on the male-driven society which is Iran. But at its core, it is also a beautiful story about how pride and jealousy can literally destroy oneself.            

In the second section, we meet a young girl who has grown up in her aunt’s house. She has secretly married a man whose proposal her aunt has repeatedly turned down on her behalf. When the secret is revealed, there is a fight between the girl’s male cousin and her husband. The husband ends up in jail, needing to pay 30 million to get out. In this segment, we see the same core values of pride encapsulated in a story which is also about the position of women in Iran.            

The third part is where the film really comes together. We see the donor go over hundreds of applications but he is unable make up his mind. We also learn the reason for his actions: years ago he lost his son and is still affected by guilt. With his money, he wants to help somebody, the same way he needed help all those years ago.        

The film plays out as a fairytale, or a cautionary tale for people who want to do good. One might have one’s heart in the right place, but it is not possible to help everyone. And helping others in order to feel better about oneself may not be a good reason to do it in the first place. The same cautions apply to the emotions of pride and jealousy explained earlier.          

Director Vahid Jalilvand tells this fairytale in a beautiful, contemplative manner, as if it is a documentary without commentary. The actors, especially Niki Karimi, deliver excellent performances. The struggles of Karimi’s character, who loves her husband dearly but cannot help him because of his pride, are heartbreaking, realistic and fierce.        

If Wednesday, May 9 receives overseas distribution, international audiences will be lucky to receive yet another insight into Iranian society.      

Edited by Lesley Chow