A determined young Saudi doctor’s surprise run for office in the local city elections sweeps up her family and community as they struggle to accept their town’s first female candidate.
There have not been many films made in Saudi Arabia largely as a result of strict censorship laws, and it was only in 2012 that the first film entirely shot in the country was released. That film was ‘Wadjda’, which was also a special achievement in that it was directed by Haifaa al-Mansour, a female filmmaker, in a society that still has a long way to go in terms of equality. ‘The Perfect Candidate’ marks al-Mansour’s return to her country of birth after a couple of English language movies, and it’s a film about gender equality and the subtle (and sometimes unsubtle) ways in which the patriarchal system keeps women down and restricts their ability to fulfil their potential.
‘The Perfect Candidate’ tells the story of Maryam (Mila Al Zahrani), a doctor in Saudi Arabia with a rebellious streak, who decides to stand for election after experiencing systemic discrimination that prevents her from flying to a medical conference in Dubai. Maryam is shown to be a capable, intelligent individual, yet she is unable to fly without her father’s permission, and she is belittled by numerous people, including a patient at the hospital where she works who badly needs her help. Al-Mansour’s film opens a window to Saudi Arabian society, which is closed off to a large extent to the western world, and we can see a country of two halves; lavish buildings and wealth as a result of the oil boom, yet laws and regulations that can only be described as backwards. Progress has been made in recent years and ‘The Perfect Candidate’ touches on this, but it’s clear there’s a long way to go yet.
If it sounds like ‘The Perfect Candidate’ is preachy or overly political, it’s really not. It’s more of a feel good drama about fighting the patriarchy (think last month’s ‘Misbehaviour’) than a hard hitting political drama, but it provides valuable insight into the situation in Saudi Arabia and the struggle for equality, with a winning lead performance from Mila Al Zahrani. ‘The Perfect Candidate’ is a well made film from Haifaa al-Mansour, and a welcome return to her home country for the first time (in a filmmaking sense) since making ‘Wadjda’.
Directed By: Haifaa al-Mansour
Starring: Mila Al Zahrani, Nora Al Awadh and Dae Al Hilali