Haifaa Al-Mansour, director of “Wadjda” in 2012, became the first female filmmaker in Saudi Arabia. And now, she brings us “The Perfect Candidate,” a story about a woman who strives to be the first of her kind.
It’s a man’s world out there. Working as a doctor in a Saudi hospital, Dr. Maryam Alsafan (Mila Al Zahrani) faces prejudice on a daily basis, as patients often prefer the male nurses to her doctorial care. And when Maryam tries to take a flight to a conference that might give her better job opportunities, she finds herself unable to because her father, a member of a touring musical band, hasn’t signed her travel ID papers. When she tries to rectify this by going to her cousin, the only other person who can sign the papers, the secretary at his office will not let anyone through except those applying for council in the local city elections.
In exasperation—and to the chagrin of many, including her family—she decides to run for council. But soon, the desire to better her own life is engulfed by the realization that she might actually be able to accomplish something with her candidacy. She focuses the platform for her campaign around paving the dirt road that leads to the hospital entrance, which makes it nearly impossible to safely admit patients when it rains.
Maryam solicits the help of her sisters (Selma and Sara, played by Dae Al Hilali and Nora Al Awad) to help with her campaign, though they and their father are worried that it will only bring the wrath of the neighbors. No woman has ever run for city council before, and everyone is sure to gossip about and criticize her. But perhaps Maryam has finally decided to take after her late mother and show some tenacity.
“The Perfect Candidate” is an inspirational story, to say the least. We see Maryam transform from a mouse into a lion, reaching for goals that she knows will benefit everyone, while pushing for more respect and equality as a woman in Saudi Arabia. The politics of the film are tense, but the story deals with it in a gentle, compelling way.
Even past its story, the film is gorgeous. Patrick Orth does a beautiful job with the cinematography, and the musical score carries the film, guiding you through every scene (after all, Maryam’s family is a musical family). The entire cast does a phenomenal job of pulling us into their world, but Al Zahrani absolutely steals the show.
Haifaa Al-Mansour has given us a gem, once again. Make sure to see this film while it plays at Midtown Cinema in June.
Midtown Cinema is located at 250 Reily St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.midtowncinema.com.
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