The Perfect Candidate
Mila Al Zahrani, Dhay Al Hilali, Nora Al Awadm Khalid Abdulraheem, Shafi Alharthy, Tareq Ahmed Al-Khaldi, Kadejah Moaath
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…too invested in the character to keep at a remote, Bressonian distance; but at the same time, isn’t aloof enough to pique the audience’s intrigue.
In 2012, Haifaa Al-Mansour was met with resounding acclaim after her debut Wadjda, became the first feature film directed by a woman in Saudi Arabia. She has since found consistent work around the world, across various cultures, with the inherent oppressions of womanhood serving as the thematic skewer lancing her entire oeuvre. Her most recent film, The Perfect Candidate, is no exception.
The film follows Maryam (Mila Al Zahrani), a resolute doctor working in rural Saudi Arabia, who is exasperated by the flooded roads leading to her hospital, and local politicians’ lack of efforts to fund the necessary aid. In a culture deaf to the voices of women, Maryam decides she must run for office as the town’s first ever female candidate, much to the scandalisation of her family, friends and society as a whole.
It is a film wherein most of the drama comes from Maryam’s struggle against her inflexible environment, where change is met with such reluctance that by the end of the story, the fruits of her endeavours are hardly perceptible. This is where a lot of the power comes from in this film, as our habits of barracking for the underdog, for justice and for necessary change are aroused by our protagonist’s unyielding resolve. And yet, while the plot’s ties with Al-Mansour’s own experiences in subverting tradition are hard to ignore, we are granted little insight into Maryam’s internal conflicts.
When a film opts to leave these private realms unpenetrated, it can be explained by either one of two approaches: subtlety or laziness. Too often Al-Mansour’s efforts more closely resemble the latter; as we feel the film is too invested in the character to keep at a remote, Bressonian distance; but at the same time, isn’t aloof enough to pique the audience’s intrigue.
While you may feel the boundaries of your comfort zone briefly breached – through the often incomprehensible societal values – here, you’ll find familiarity swiftly embracing you, as the film proves itself riskless in both its construction and overall message. The gender oppression of Saudi society are effectively communicated, however, neither a hopeful nor pessimistic view is offered. That said, such neutrality can often pack a punch of its own, but in the case of The Perfect Candidate, the obstinacy of Saudi society, combined with Al-Mansour’s infirm and indecisive assessment of it, too invested in the character to keep at a remote, Bressonian distance; but at the same time, isn’t aloof enough to pique the audience’s intrigue.results in a generally stagnant film.
Further, the modesty of Al-Mansour’s aesthetics, a trademark throughout her career, again contributes to this sense of safeness, rather than controlled restraint, ensuring that The Perfect Candidate will fade quickly from memory.