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.”
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.”