The Perfect Candidate | Chicago Reader
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The Perfect Candidate

Writer-director Haifaa Al-Mansour is widely recognized as being the first female filmmaker from Saudi Arabia; she’s also the first filmmaker to shoot a film (her 2012 directorial debut, Wadjda) entirely in the Kingdom. After directing two other features (Mary Shelley, Nappily Ever After) and several television episodes abroad, Al-Mansour returns to her home country with this 2019 feature about one woman’s journey to relative independence. Maryam (Mila Al Zahrani) is a doctor in a small Saudi Arabian city; the road to her clinic is unpaved and susceptible to flooding. She faces other obstacles as well, the most obvious being that she’s a woman in a supremely oppressive country. Made one year after women were granted the right to drive in Saudi Arabia, and amidst an expanding cultural landscape—that, among other things, brought with it the reopening of movie theaters after a 35-year ban—the film positions the initially conservative Maryam as a symbol of hope and change. Through unusual circumstances, Maryam registers to run as a candidate in the municipal county elections. Committed to getting the clinic’s road paved, Maryam challenges both herself and community members to respect her as a legitimate candidate, with the help of her two sisters and a potential suitor. There’s also a subplot about Maryam’s musician father (underground Saudi folk star Khalid Abdulrahman), who’s finally able to tour with his band after many years of being prohibited from performing in public. This isn’t revolutionary filmmaking, but Al-Mansour is consistently adept at expressing the revolutions that start within.

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