In an astute return to a story that very much resonates with her homeland, Haifaa Al Mansour – who in 2012 became the first Saudi woman to direct a feature film in her country – sets her steely gaze on the plight on women in Saudi Arabia, with the opening scenes setting out its position of the single-minded main character by placing her behind the wheel of a car…a striking image given the women were only granted driving licences in 2018.
Following her first film Wadjda, she made two English-language films -- the period drama biopic Mary Shelley and Netflix romcom Nappily Ever After – and this new film offers up the perfect chance to revisit the key issues of her home country and examine some of the changes happening Saudi Arabia.
The film follows Maryam Alsafan (Mila Al Zahrani), a doctor in a small Saudi town only accessible by a dirt road…a road that often gets muddy and inaccessible in bad weather. She is clearly more competent that male colleagues and hope to try and get a better job by attending a conference in Dubai, but finds out there is an issue with her travel documents.
In an attempt to try and meet a government official who can help her she – almost by accident –finds herself running for the local municipal council. Before long she comes to realise it might not be such a bad idea and in fact it might be a good way to try and fix her road. She gets assistance of sorts from her two sisters -- Selma (Dae Al Hilali) is supportive, but her younger Sara (Nora Al Awad) worries about scandals – and against the odds Maryam emerges as a public figure.
The script by Al Mansour and Brad Niemann veers between being playful and gently provocative, with the film making its point through subtle commentary rather than any kind of barbed attack. Maryam is a delightful character…gently strident but also astute and politically savvy. She is well aware of her situation as a woman but at the same time never lets it stop her.
The Perfect Candidate had its premiere at the Venice Film Festival in 2019, but release has been long delayed due to the pandemic. Since wrapping the film, Al Mansour as worked in several television projects and currently has drama The Selection in pre-production, based on the novel by Kiera Cass, about a group of impoverished girls who compete for a chance to live amongst the wealthy, in a world where a rebellion is brewing.
Germany-Saudi Arabia, 2019, 101mins
Dir Haifaa Al Mansour
Production Al MansourEstablishment For Audiovisual Media, Razor Film, Norddeutscher Rundfunk
International sales The MatchFactory
Producers Roman Paul, Gerhard Meixner, Haifaa Al Mansour, Brad Niemann
Screenplay Haifaa Al Mansour, Brad Niemann
Cinematography Patrick Orth
Editor Andreas Wodraschke
Production designer Olivier Meidinger