Venice 2019: Haifaa Al-Mansour's 'The Perfect Candidate' is Inspiring
by Alex Billington
August 30, 2019
I'm happiest when I watch a great film. Not just a good one, but a really great one. Something that fills me with energy, that reminds me this is why I love going to film festivals. And I'm happy to report that the new film from Saudi Arabian filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour (director of Wadjda, Mary Shelley, and Nappily Ever After previously), titled The Perfect Candidate, is indeed an outstanding film. After spending some time in Hollywood making a few films, Al-Mansour returns to her roots in Saudi Arabia to tells this story of a young woman in the country who discovers her voice. It's an inspiring & uplifting film that moves briskly and gives us a good story to follow. No matter where you're from, you can connect with and enjoy this film.
The Perfect Candidate is set in Saudi Arabia and follows a young doctor name Maryam, played by Mila Al Zahrani, who works at local clinic that is desperately in need of extra funding. The road leading up to the clinic is unpaved and due to a water pipe burst is a disgusting, muddy mess. She tries to get her superior to approve funds to fix this, but he doesn't approve. Due to a technical error with her passport, she is unable to fly to a conference in Dubai and rushes to a family friend for help - inadvertently signing up as a city council candidate in the process. The next thing she knows, she's in the running and must create her own grassroots political campaign - a challenge in a country where many still believe that women belong in the home and no where else. But she recruits her sisters and pulls it off, proving that women are indeed capable of anything.
There's an obvious comparison to be made between this story and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in America. Mostly in the sense of an unexpected, young, female candidate creating a grassroots campaign and battling a stubborn incumbent. There's also the encouraging theme that simply going out there and staying strong in the face of public pressure, persisting against intense opposition, makes a difference in society. This kind of determination can be as progressive and inflectional as anything else, and that's the main point of the film. It's a reminder that we may not win each & every battle, but we can still win the war in the end - every little bit helps. And in conservative societies, showing you are confident and persistent and that you "know your shit" (as we say over here) can break down barriers and prove to people that there is truly hope for progress.
Most of all, I really believe Haifaa Al-Mansour is one of the most talented filmmakers making movies these days - she encourages very honest, lively, brave performances from her entire cast. But she also makes films that are easy to watch, which means we can appreciate them more, and more people (who may not usually take an interest) will end up enjoying them. This doesn't mean she can't make films with depth, because she always works that into the layers, but her storytelling prowess combined with her technical understanding always makes her films some of the most engaging to discover. And The Perfect Candidate proves that she is continuing to grow, continuing to mature, and will only get better with each & every new film she brings us.
Alex's Venice 2019 Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing