By Muniyra Douglas
The story of a 14-year old bride is not an easy narrative to tackle. But writer-director Ash Mayfair makes her feature film debut with the The Third Wife, and does an excellent job at creating such an emotional and visually appealing film. Set in late 19th century Vietnam, the story revolves around May, who at only 14 years old is chosen to be the third wife of a wealthy landowner.
Mayfair’s short films have been exhibited at several US and international film festivals. The pre-thesis short, Grasshopper was screened at Cannes Short Film Corner, and in 2014 The Third Wife screenplay was selected by Spike Lee as a recipient of the Spike Lee Film Production Fund award. The film sees May struggle to understand the family politics, and her role, within the triad of women. As the youngest of the wives she is often found in situations of emotional dependence.
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Although the film’s view point is from May, we are provided insight into the other wives’ stories as well. They are given opportunities to connect with the audience, and provided our sympathy. Their strength and resilience are not something that is taken as spiteful towards May, but instead as a deeper understanding of their role as well. It is important to note that although this story is about May, it is very much a story that spirals for the other character’s as well. All the young girls and women in the film have a story to tell, regardless of their generation. Mayfair hints at darker and deeper backstories for the two older wives’, which would also be very intriguing if fully uncovered.
Mayfair creates beautiful, serene backdrops that add to the intensity of the film’s narrative. The audience is visually stimulated with the colourful natural environment, and garments, while having to digest such a complex and controversial storyline. The concept of child bride’s not an alien theme, even under modern standards. This topic is still so prevalent and problematic today that the film itself, even though set in the 19th century, will resonate with audience members.
The Third Wife is such a multi-layered story, that to be fully appreciated all aspects need to be unpacked. For example, the youngest daughter of the landowner, who is featured as a rebellious figure, tells her sister that when she grows up she is going to become a man and have several wives. This scene, while can simply be viewed as comedic break or silly conversation between two adolescent girls, is so poignant and speaks volumes towards gender politics. And the beauty of the entire film and the conversations that arises from it, allows dialogue like this to be read in so many ways and it will mean something different to everyone.
*Editor’s note: The Third Wife as originally screened at the Toronto International Film Festival ‘18.