Despite being classed as a friendly nation (aka arms and oil) by most of the Western world, Saudi Arabia has a truly appalling human rights record. Whist the rather Biblical system of justice may attract the headlines it’s the truly archaic treatment of women which is arguably the hardest pill to swallow. Admittedly, things have become more relaxed over the last couple of year, but somethings never change. As Haifaa Al Mansour illustrates in his new film, The Perfect Candidate.
Maryam (Mila Al Zahrani) is a good doctor. Indeed, she’s the only one at the clinic. Whilst her father (Khalid Abdulraheem) is on tour with his band, she discovers her travel papers need renewing; preventing her attending a medical conference. In desperation, she visits a cousin (Ahmad Alsulaimy) for help, but after a misunderstanding she’s entered as a candidate for the municipal council elections. As no one is prepared to repair the road to the hospital she has no option but to take matters into her own hands. With only her sister (Dae Al Hilali) to help.
The Perfect Candidate is a clever social drama which attacks the myriad social issues in Saudi Arabia through the eyes of one determined woman. Whilst the daily small and large iniquities are relentless, the decision to focus events through the lens of one central issue allows the story to flow; whilst making much broader point. With often only her eyes and body language as her foils, Mila Al Zahrani impresses. Every inch the figure of uncertain yet stoic determination. The Perfect Candidate is an enthralling work of subtle power.
The Perfect Candidate screens again at London Film Festival on 8 October.