The 76th Venice Film Festival saw the world premiere of Haifaa Al-Mansour‘s “The Perfect Candidate,” screening at the PalaBiennale venue. Al-Mansour’s film is one of two in competition on the festival docket to be directed by a woman. Her past work includes “Nappily Ever After,” “Mary Shelley” and the BAFTA nominated “Wadjda.”
“The Perfect Candidate” follows the story of a young Saudi doctor who decides to run for her local election, aiming to be the first female candidate her town has seen. With her run comes the tired oppression of a society living with its ingrained social tradition. The film stars Mila Alzahrani, Dhay, Nourah Al Awad and Khalid Abdulrhim.
In an article for The Hollywood Reporter, Al-Mansour is quoted on the importance of her narrative and what it means in the state of Saudi Arabia:
“I hope people see the universality in a story like this,” says al-Mansour, a mother of two. “Women everywhere, whether they’re in politics or the corporate world, or even as a director, we’re always challenged. There are so many hurdles that we need to go over as women that men don’t face. Even the way we dress or talk is judged.”
In an interview with Deadline, Al-Mansour describes the emphasis on sisterhood and togetherness against all odds in her story:
I wanted to make a film about a strong woman who takes center stage but who also needs support from other women. It’s a film about sisterhood. When it comes to leadership positions, women face similar barriers the world over. Of course this is more pronounced in the Middle East, but it’s also noticeable in the West. I felt like this was a timely story about how women can move forward.
The Perfect Candidate offers a candid view on Saudi Arabian society that will pique the curiosity of Western audiences. Its humorous viewpoint on a bored, spoilt society divided by gender puts this Saudi Arabia-Germany co-production in a special class of its own that could capture the fancy of non-festival viewers.
A simplistic feminist tale with an irresistible heroine.
Alonso Duralde of The Wrap takes note of the magnificent performances in Al-Mansour’s film and its focused stride forward. He writes in his review:
The fact that all four members of this family are played by first-timers is astonishing; Al Mansour clearly knows how to craft natural, lived-in characters, even with newcomers.
“The Perfect Candidate” feels like a film that both represents a new era for women in the Muslim world and also one that will help push that movement forward.
Coverage and reactions out of Venice are included via Twitter:
#BiennaleCinema2019 #Venezia76 #ThePerfectCandidate @HaifaaMansour: “I think that there’s a new place for art in the society and cinema has contributed to this change. My family has always celebrated art and my country is going in the same direction, it’s moving forward.” pic.twitter.com/PJdaTjGh1l
— Biennale di Venezia (@la_Biennale) August 29, 2019
Happy to report that Haifaa al-Mansour's The Perfect Candidate is the first outstanding film of the Venice Film Festival this year. Loved it. A bit like the story of AOC, but about a young woman in Saudi Arabia. Has such an enthusiastic energy.
— Alex Billington @ Venice (@firstshowing) August 28, 2019
#ThePerfectCandidate, from Haifaa al-Mansour, is the highlight of the opening day for #Venezia76. A touching family dramedy about a female physician trying to win over her conservative, male-dominated society. Mila Al Zahrani is a revelation. Brilliant screenplay, beautiful film. pic.twitter.com/Gi0d0jszU0
— International Film Critique (@IntFilmCritique) August 28, 2019
“The Perfect Candidate” is produced by Razor Film Produktion (Gerhard Meixner, Roman Paul) and Haifaa Al Mansour’s Establishment for Audiovisual Media. It was recently selected as part of the in-competition slate for the BFI London Film Festival.