“Mayday,” which took its first European bow at the Rotterdam Film Festival this week after premiering at Sundance, is the debut feature of U.S. writer/director Karen Cinorre.
The film tells the tale of oppressed young waitress Ana (Grace Van Patten, “The Meyerowitz Stories”) working at a wedding, who falls through an oven into a female-dominated utopia.
The character then joins group of seemingly like-minded soldiers who are involved in a Siren-like mission to lure male soldiers to their deaths via fake mayday calls.
The feature is one of a number of films vying for this year’s Tiger Award at Rotterdam exploring female self-realization and shares similar revenge fantasy themes to fellow Sundance breakout, Emma Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman.”
While Cinorre’s original script for the film pre-dates both the #MeToo and “Time’s Up” movements, she remains hopeful that these events have created “a new openness” that has meant films like hers are more likely to get made.
“It’s opened up an extra lane: once certain films broke through with women at the center, people realized there are new ways of telling stories, which the industry has got excited by,” she says.
The director’s unconventional narrative, which sees two fantasy-type worlds ooze into each other rather possess a clearer more straightforward “Wizard of Oz” or Narnia-style delineation, is in keeping with the director’s art-house roots and unconventional path into filmmaking.
Eschewing film school and the festival shorts circuit in favor of a more “apprenticeship” route into the industry, Cinorre cut her filmmaking teeth in the art departments on like-minded directors’ films.
She worked the props on Gus Van Sant’s “Last Days” and made many of the cardboard cut outs and rubber foam sculptures that feature in Isabella Rossellini’s quirky animal mating series for The Sundance Channel, “Green Porno.”
She recalls: “There was just three of us and we made Isabella into a spider and a bumble bee. Many of the costumes were attached to rigs which I also had to operate – so I essentially became a puppeteer that got to play animals having sex with Isabella Rossellini!”
The experimental U.S. filmmaker Leslie Thornton is cited as another mentor – after Cinorre took her film class at Brown (University).
“Leslie taught us how to clean cameras, how to cut negatives, how to light everything ourselves, how to mix sound. She gave us no rules and said that it was up to us to find our connection to the medium.”
Cinorre’s script made a connection with its ensemble cast – a role call of up-and-coming indie names as well as a cameo by an established Hollywood actress.
As well as Van Patten there’s “Suspiria” actress Mia Goth, who plays the group’s charismatic leader and the French signer songwriter and actress Stephanie Sokolinski – best know by her stage name “Soko.”
Juliette Lewis meanwhile, appears in a cameo role as June, a wise recluse who “doesn’t play well with others.”
Another boost to the project was deploying the eye of her husband, the indie director’s go-to-cinematographer Sam Levy, who has come on board as both the film’s DP and producer.
Cinorre says that she worked with Levy – whose credits include “Wendy and Lucy,” “Frances Ha” and “Ladybird” – to create a visual language for the film, that was inspired by the work of the Belgian company Rosas Dance.
“We tried to find images of women in action, but there aren’t that many of them, so we took our inspiration from this dance group in which women’s bodies move in a forceful, smooth way.
“They use film sometimes in their performances and sound in interesting ways. That really got into our heads as a way to show these characters in motion, in relationship to their world,” she says.
According to Cinorre, the film’s sales agent ICM is holding out for theatrical distribution.
“We don’t know what that looks like yet, no one does, but it’s a film with a very big canvas – it feels like it needs scale and scope and we’ve been really encouraged by the conversations we’re having with distributors, who are dedicated to making this a reality,” she says.