VENICE: Long before Saudi Arabia reopened its cinemas earlier this year, Haifaa Al-Mansour had made her first movie, “Wadjda,” which premiered at the 2012 Venice film festival.
Al-Mansour had told me then that her entire directorial exercise had been a real struggle: She had to sit inside a van and shout her instructions through a microphone. The movie suffered, but when she premiered “Mary Shelly” in 2017, the progress was for all to see.
Her latest outing is “The Wedding Singer’s Daughter,” a short film that screened at the 75th edition of the Venice film festival last week. The film is a neat work of art and features a girl who saves her mother from embarrassment during a traditional Saudi wedding.
Here, much like her first film’s young protagonist, a child (played by Haylie Neimann) becomes a hero when she gets up on a table to fix a microphone so her mother (played by Saudi singer Rotana Tarabzouni) can continue singing.
Neimann is a natural and acts with her eyes, something that is very rare these days. It is clear that Al-Mansour’s attention was totally on the little girl, which is not a bad thing, but maybe a bit more camera time for the singer could have balanced out the work a little more evenly.
Although it is understandable that priorities must be chosen in such a short film — this one runs for about eight minutes — a little more creativity in the editing room could have made the feature a more satisfying watch.
The film captures the essence of society, with Al-Mansour publicly stating that “weddings are the actual mirror of the society in Saudi Arabia: Segregated, fragmented, along gender and class.
“I wanted to tell the story of those people and capture that tenderness,” she added.
And that she does with finesse. We see how the daughter ignores the scornful barbs of guests at the wedding and uses her imagination, like an independent movie director, to fix the power problem.
In the process, with one simple act, Al-Mansour once again creates an unlikely heroine.