The Perfect Candidate

Saudi director Haifaa al-Mansour is back on form with The Perfect Candidate, a pointed critique of her country's endemic social misogyny and the way it works to police women’s behaviour

Film Review by Christopher Machell | 03 Mar 2020
  • The Perfect Candidate
Film title: The Perfect Candidate
Director: Haifaa al-Mansour
Starring: Mila Alzahrani, Khalid Abdulraheem, Dae Al Hilali
Release date: 27 Mar
Certificate: PG

Haifaa al-Mansour’s first film, Wadjda, was a big festival hit, but after a questionable dalliance with historical biography with 2017’s Mary Shelley, and her little-seen Netflix romcom Nappily Ever After, one might be forgiven for suspecting Saudi Arabia’s first female director of losing her edge.

Al-Mansour’s latest happily dispels any such concerns: following the travails of Dr Maryam (Alzahrani), The Perfect Candidate is a pointed critique of the way that endemic social misogyny works to police women’s behaviour. When Maryam tries to treat an elderly man suffering from back pain, he refuses treatment because she is a woman, choosing the care of a male nurse instead. When a senior male doctor hears the argument, his only concern is that Maryam is “upsetting” the patient. When the man is readmitted after an MRI scan shows up a serious problem requiring urgent surgery, he must be cajoled into being examined by Maryam, even in the face of death.

Later she is denied travel to a conference by the Saudi law that requires written permission from her father, so instead Maryam runs as a candidate for the city council, running on a ticket to fix the hospital’s road. The Perfect Candidate’s point is not to attack the country’s sexist laws, but to understand the misogynist discourses that underpin their perpetuation. Al-Mansour examines each instance of prejudice and discrimination – much of which is internalised by other women – as symptomatic of a broader cultural edifice, at which fierce women like Maryam are obliged to slowly chip away.

Released 27 Mar by Modern Films; certificate PG

Screens at GFF: Sat 7 Mar, GFT, 6pm | Sun 8 Mar, GFT, 1.15pm