Saudi filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour’s ‘The Perfect Candidate’ wows UK critics

Haifaa Al-Mansour’s movie launched in the UK late last month. (Getty)
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Updated 03 April 2020

Saudi filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour’s ‘The Perfect Candidate’ wows UK critics

LONDON: ‘The Perfect Candidate’ — Saudi Arabian filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour’s latest movie — launched in the UK late last month (on streaming services, since cinemas are currently closed) and has garnered hugely positive reviews for its “subtle power” (Backseat Mafia). 

“The Perfect Candidate” tells the story of Maryam, a doctor who — outraged by the state of the road leading to her clinic, which sometimes prevents patients from reaching her — decides to run for a position in the local municipality. It’s a decision that shocks not just politicians and the media (a presenter on the local news assumes she must be campaigning on ‘female-focused’ issues “like gardens, for instance”), but her family and friends too. 

In The Sunday Times, Kevin Maher described “The Perfect Candidate” as “an inspirational tale.” He hailed Mila Al-Zahrani’s performance in the lead role as “furiously good” and said the film was “the perfect streamer,” praising Al-Mansour for the ease with which she “blends arthouse and mainstream conventions.”

Al-Mansour’s comedy drama premiered at the Venice Film Festival in August 2019.  At the time, the filmmaker told Arab News, “It’s feminist. It’s about empowering women and it gives them a chance to believe in themselves and think that they could run for office and get involved in politics in Saudi Arabia.” 

The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw said the movie gives the audience “a fine lesson in some key ingredients of political life … nepotism, cynicism, sexism and chaos,” finding the themes so universal that it is, “the sort of film I can imagine getting a remake in contemporary America or Britain, with not as many changes as we might assume.”

“The Perfect Candidate” tells the story of Maryam, a doctor who decides to run for a position in the local municipality. (Supplied)

In Little White Lies, Ella Kemp described the film as “a fiery message playfully wrapped in irony” that “attains a greater level of sensitivity beyond just delivering yet another cry for vague female empowerment.” 

As she did with her pioneering debut film — 2012’s “Wadjda” — it seems Al-Mansour is once again proving that there is an appetite for stories from Saudi Arabia and the wider Arab world in international markets; a fact that should help convince others to see the creative arts as a viable career option — something Al-Mansour was keen to see happen when she spoke to Arab News last year. 

“Art will become something people can actually work on and live off in Saudi Arabia, which was not the case before,” she said. “ Art was not respected. People didn’t have that kind of appreciation for it. But I think it’s different now.”

Art Dubai announces new format, appoints Hala Khayat as regional head

Updated 22 September 2020

Art Dubai announces new format, appoints Hala Khayat as regional head

DUBAI: In a year that has become known for its constant stream of cancellations, postponements and transformations, Art Dubai has just announced that its 14th fair, which will take place on March 17-21, 2021 will have a revised format in line with today’s ever shifting possibilities. The fair has also announced that Hala Khayat, a long-time modern and contemporary Middle Eastern art expert and a former specialist in Arab, Iranian and Turkish art at Christie’s Dubai, will be its new regional director. While at Christie’s, Khayat, who comes from Syria, set up an NGO titled SAFIR in 2014 that promotes the work of young Syrian artists.

Portrait of Hala Khayat. Supplied

“Art Dubai will take place next year with an adapted program that takes into account expected social-distancing measures,” Khayat told Arab News. “This will include an adapted fair layout, a more personalized experience orchestrated through a new app and more outdoor experiences provided by the wonderful weather in the UAE during March and the fair’s unique location by the beach.”

For the first time, the fair will take place across multiple venues across the UAE. In addition to its long-time home at Madinat Jumeirah, these include the Jameel Arts Center in Dubai, the Sharjah Art Foundation and Warehouse421 in Abu Dhabi, supported by the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation.

By Mohammed Kazem. Supplied

“In addition, we are planning an exciting week-long program of events outside of the fair and throughout the UAE, leveraging on synergies between the fair and the UAE’s main cultural institutions in celebration of the UAE’s 50th anniversary,” she added.

This new way of expressing creative synergies with UAE-based institutions constitutes the silver-lining of this year’s tumultuous changes: It’s time to look outside the traditional setting of an art fair and expand the program locally. With the lack of international travel these days, fairs need to creatively adapt their programs to harness greater local interest.

By Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim. Supplied

On the digital front, Art Dubai has some new additions. These include the new online exhibitions program, Art Dubai Portrait Exhibitions, which will present leading artists from across the Global South in the lead-up to the fair. It will kick off with works by Timo Nasseri, to be followed by Mohamed Ahmed Ibrahim, Mohammed Kazem, Aya Haidar, Dia Azzawi and Abdul Rahman Katanani.

Abdul Rahman Katanani. Supplied

There will also be a viewing room for all participating galleries, a series of presentations and other digital events planned for the week of the fair.

“The present moment requires a deeper than ever sense of community and engagement,” Khayat said. “I look forward to playing my part in nurturing existing as well as new relationships and engaging in audiences in the region and the broader Global South.”