Haifaa Al-Mansour’s ‘The Perfect Candidate’ Tells the Remarkable Story of a Female Political Candidate in Saudi Arabia

The Perfect Candidate, which debuted in 2019, is slowly making its way across the world. This inspiring film about a female doctor who runs for a position on her town’s municipal council was filmed entirely in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and featured local actors and actresses. The production crew was composed of filmmakers from both Saudi Arabia and Germany. 

The Perfect Candidate was co-written and directed by Saudi Arabia’s first ever female filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour. Al-Mansour grew up in Saudi Arabia but eventually left the country to study Literature at the American University in Cairo and then get her Masters in Directing and Film Studies from the University of Sydney. She has written and directed a number of films and series for Netflix including Nappily Ever After and The Society. 

This film about resilience, gender equality and sisterhood stars Mila Al Zahrani as Dr. Maryam Alsafan, Dae Al Hilali as her sister Selma and Nora Al Awad as her sister Sara. In The Perfect Candidate Maryam lives with her two sisters and her father Abdulaziz (Khalid Abdulraheem). Compared to the rest of the town, Maryam’s family is extremely progressive. Her father is a musician and her mother (who passed away) was a singer; she and her sister are both unmarried. 

Despite them being more open-minded than others, Maryam’s family is skeptical when she announces her intent to run for council. They admit that they fear for her and worry about the family being outcast. Fortunately, they prove to be supportive and ultimately accept and encourage her run.

When it comes to the other women in the town, they are reluctant to support Maryam at first as well. For example, when Maryam asks one woman if she intends to vote for her, the girl’s response was “I will ask my husband.” Another woman tells her that she doesn’t vote. In lieu of all of these obstacles, Maryam keeps on persisting and reaching out for votes to people who often mock her.

In an interview with Haifaa Al-Mansour at BFI Southbank, the writer and director discusses the slow yet steady progression towards gender equality in Saudi Arabia. She informs us that women only recently gained the right to drive. She herself recalls having to pay for a driver to take her to work the last time she lived in the country. Al-Mansour additionally discusses the guardianship law, meaning women must always have a male guardian who is typically their father or husband. This is something that gets brought up in the film.

If you get the chance, please do yourself a favor and watch The Perfect Candidate. It is an authentic and beautiful film that will engage both your eyes and ears. You will learn about a part of the world that you most likely don’t see or think about everyday. Aside from its political message, the film is humorous and can be relatable to people living anywhere in the world. The Perfect Candidate has become one of my favorite international films and I hope it will become one of yours as well.

Watch The Perfect Candidate on Kanopy.

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