Saudi Arabia has a reputation for being a country with repressive misogyny. Friends of mine who have lived in the country have told me otherwise.
Nonetheless, The Perfect Candidate depicts groups of women living under Saudi’s chauvinistic oppression. Understandably, it only focuses on one of those groups – Arab women.
The film’s representative from that group is Maryam (Mila Alzahrani), a exurban doctor. Her life changes when she, because of bureaucratic shenanigans, inadvertently runs for office.
The Perfect Candidate is Haifaa al-Mansour returning to a familiar cultural context. This is a slight improvement from Mary Shelley, which takes no artistic risks.
This film tries a few things with its two different story lines. One involve Maryam’s father (Khalid Abdulrhim), who faces cultural oppression as a musician.
The scenes involving Maryam’s father are both the film’s best and worst. For the former, there’s him playing love songs for a lit crowd.
For the latter, the musicians comment on news of Maryam’s candidacy from afar. Al-Mansour intended and failed to turn them into the film’s Greek chorus.
Maryam running for city council is reminiscent of the titular character in Wadjda. Which is fine, except that it follows the previous film’s same beats.
Again, al-Mansour tries new things, like how Internet culture affects Maryam’s candidacy. But she could have pushed those different aesthetics and given them more screen time.
I agree with al-Mansour’s message of giving women more political, public power. I just wish she pushed herself and gave us something artistically better.
For more information on The Perfect Candidate go to https://www.tiff.net/events/the-perfect-candidate.