The Perfect Candidate
The Perfect Candidate is a meditation on the contrasts and conflicts in modern day Saudi Arabia. Mila Al Zaharani plays the steely Maryam, a doctor in a hospital on a road so poor that people can barely reach it, determined to make a change in the world. From the opening scenes we are aware of the central conflict of the film: Maryam is a woman in Saudi Arabia. Costumes, locations and visuals throughout reinforce this message. Women and men wear opposing colours, enter through different doorways, and have entirely separate universes.
This is what makes it all the more absurd when Maryam runs for office. For fans of al-Mansour they may see a growing theme in her domestic films – girls who go up against the odds to fight for their place in the world. Inspiring and disheartening in equal measure, Maryam’s campaign is helped along by her vivacious sisters, Selma (Dae Al Hilali) and Sara (Nora Al Awadh), who bring much of the most surprising element of the film – its humour. It is heartwarming to see the sisters gathered round their smartphones discussing the next stage of their campaign, and amusing to see Saudia Arabians poking fun at America’s eccentricities. The storyline is very deliberate in showing a country caught in a grapple between its hardline traditions and the modern world.
In its attempt to highlight these issues the film at times lacks nuance – characters explicitly explain elements of the story rather than allowing their actions to show us. The cinematography is unfussy, which can make the pace feel a little slow but also brings familiarity and warmth to the characters. Strong performances from the central cast get the audience invested in the story – we root for Maryam from the opening scene.
The Perfect Candidate succeeds in showing us not only the difficult reality for women in Saudi Arabia but also the humour and camaraderie to be found amongst its people. The characters in al-Mansour’s story show us an important lesson – that we are all human, and that Saudi society, much like our own, accommodates those with varying opinions. Although it seems at times that the three women at the centre of the narrative are swimming against the tide, al-Mansour offers us the feeling that just maybe one day it will all be worth it.
The Perfect Candidate is released in select cinemas on 27th March 2020.
Watch the trailer for The Perfect Candidate here: