The Perfect Candidate: Venice Film Review

Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia

There are only two female directors in the 2019 Venice Film Festival competition and one of those is The Perfect Candidate’s Haifaa Al-Mansour, who brings us an inspiring look at a young woman finding her voice in Saudi Arabia.

Mila Al-Zahrani stars as Maryam, a young doctor who works at a local hospital that is inaccessible due to a flooded road in desperate need of repair. One day she plans to go to Dubai to attend a doctors’ conference but doesn’t have a valid permit to fly, and her guardian, her father, is a musician on tour and cannot sign a new one, so she goes to her cousin at the council for help. While there, she decides to sign up to run in the municipal council elections, making her the first female candidate in the town, and she has a fight on her hands to be taken seriously.

As we all know from the headlines, Saudi Arabia isn’t like the western world when it comes to the treatment of women but seeing it on screen in The Perfect Candidate makes you truly realise how unfair some of these mind-boggling rules are. Maryam needs a man’s permission to travel and cannot address a group of men directly. It makes me realise how lucky I am to be living where I do.

The Perfect Candidate isn’t perfect. It could have gone deeper into these issues or leaned into the absurdness of it all and gone for a full-on comedy but it stays somewhere in the middle. It keeps itself quite light and occasionally goes for comedy, which really worked and I’d have liked more of. The more outspoken and determined Maryam becomes, the more serious the film is because she has found her voice and she’s not afraid to use it, even if she is breaking some laws/customs.

Zahrani was a strong, likeable lead and the character is very inspiring. It takes a lot of guts to go against the status quo and fight back against misogyny, particularly somewhere like Saudi Arabia. She is supported by her photographer sister Selma (Dae Al-Hilali), who is just so lovely, while her young sister Sara (Nora Al-Awadh) is certain Maryam is going to bring ridicule upon the family.

The Perfect Candidate is just a slow gentle watch. It doesn’t drive the politics home too hard but it’s still eye-opening about another culture.

The Perfect Candidate is part of the official competition at the 76th annual Venice Film Festival

Rating: 3/5

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