Cannes 2021: Rehana Maryam Noor, Evolution, The Story of Film: A New Generation | Festivals & Awards

The best of the three by some stretch is Abdullah Mohammad Saad’s powerful “Rehana Maryam Noor,” an exercise in craft and limited POV that’s given a strong emotional core by Azmeri Haque Badhon as the title character. An assistant professor at a medical college and a single mother to a delightful young girl named Emu (Afia Jahin Jaima, giving an incredibly natural performance), Rehana is a taskmaster even though her superior (Kazi Sami Hassan) encourages her to let some small slights slide when it comes to managing her students. One night, Rehana is staying late at the school when she hears a young woman being assaulted in her superior’s office next door. A student named Annie (Afia Tabassum Borno) emerges, knowing that Rehana is aware of what just happened, but she refuses her teacher’s pleas to report the assault. Rehana can’t let it go, becoming increasingly obsessed with what she knows, eaten alive by the knowledge that a horrible crime might go unpunished.

“Rehana Maryam Noor” is a fascinating study in how we define allyship and how easy it is for bad men to continue unchecked. The truth is that Annie’s life will be destroyed if she files charges against her professor—everything she’s worked for in her tough education thrown away. She understandably doesn’t want this to happen, and so Rehana devises an ingenious plan. She will tell her superiors that it was she, not Annie, who was raped. As Rehana digs in deeper and becomes more reckless, Saad’s film almost becomes a thriller. He employs an unstable camera, always moving and shifting, reflecting the uncertainty about what’s happening, both on the part of the viewer and the protagonist.

Saad also brilliantly locks us into the POV of his title character, not only placing her in every scene, but never leaving the offices, classrooms, and corridors of the hospital. The setting adds to the claustrophobia, enhanced even further by a striking blue color palette. We often see Rehana through windows and reflected on surfaces, as if she’s turning into something less than three-dimensional in this nightmare scenario, fading into a system that denies justice. After an intense scene at around the hour mark wherein Rehana takes action against a student, the film kind of retreats right when it should be pushing forward, but a final scene echoes the first one in a way that’s very rewarding. The first Bangladeshi film at Cannes, this is one to watch for when it finds its way off the Croisette.

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