The Perfect Candidate (2019)

The Perfect Candidate
Director: Haifaa Al-Mansour
Writer: Haifaa Al-Mansour, Brad Niemann
Cast: Mila Al Zahrani, Dae Al Hilali, Nora Al Awad, Khalid Abdulraheem, Shafi Alharthy, Tareq Al Khaldi, Khadeeja Mua’th
Seen on: 8.7.2020

Maryam (Mila Al Zahrani) is a doctor working at the local hospital. Every day she is challenged because she is a woman, and everyday she grows more exasperated with the road leading to the hospital – a dirt road, regularly sinking in mud. When all of her calls about the road amount to nothing, she engages the help of her sisters Selma (Dae Al Hilali) and Sara (Nora Al Awad) and runs for local government, causing quite an outrage in her city. While she expected push-back, her candidacy also has some unforeseen consequences for Maryam and her family.

The Perfect Candidate is an entertaining film with a feminist heart. Taking on discrimination, it could have become quite heavy, but it retains a sense of humor – that fortunately doesn’t weaken its political message.

The film poster showing Maryam (Mila Al Zahrani).

With Covid-19, I just missed the film in cinemas in March, so I was quite happy when they programmed it again after cinemas re-opened here. It’s rare enough that we get movies by women in cinemas, but especially so when its movies that aren’t from Hollywood and aren’t made by white women. When they take on openly feminist topics, it’s even better in my book (and even rarer).

So, my expectations for The Perfect Candidate were pretty high, particularly because I already liked Wadjda very much and it felt like a return to that style of film for Al Mansour. Luckily my expectations were not disappointed and I got what I hoped for: a warm-hearted, feminist tale that isn’t content with telling only the story of the woman it focuses on, but tries to paint a larger picture of Saudi society.

Maryam (Mila Al Zahrani) working on her campaign with her sisters Selma (Dae Al Hilali) and Sara (Nora Al Awad).

So we not only see the liberties that Maryam gets, but also where she isn’t free to choose. How often she has to depend on the goodwill of the men around her – although she is at least lucky enough that most of the men around her are willing to help. We get to see things change, but not all of them and not always in the best way. And we see that it’s not just women who are affected by repressive politics – Maryam’s father, a musician, also struggles.

All of this is rolled into an entertaining, yet not shallow package that challenges viewers to imagine another way of doing things. And isn’t it time we finally made that imagined world more real?

Maryam (Mila Al Zahrani) treating a patient.

Summarizing: Watch it.

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