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76th Venice Film Festival: The Perfect Candidate Movie Review

The Perfect Candidate

‘The Perfect Candidate’ actress Mila Alzharani; Credit: Razor Film/ Writer-director Haifaa Al Mansour

Title: The Perfect Candidate

Director: Haifaa Al Mansour

Cast: Mila Alzahrani, Dhay, Khalid Abdulrhim, Shafi Al Harthy. 

The first female Saudi filmmaker, Haifaa Al Mansour, premiered her new inspirational movie, The Perfect Candidate, at the 2019 Venice Film Festival. This cinematic piece is empowering for women, but without being preachy, factitious or excessive. It portrays a beautiful portrait of female determination, fully nuanced with femininity and the unyielding pursuit of gender equality.

Mila Alzahrani, perspicaciously plays Maryam, an ambitious young doctor working in a small town clinic in Saudi Arabia. Despite her qualifications, she has to earn credibility from her patients and male colleagues, on a daily basis. Serendipity works in her favor, when she is prevented from traveling to Dubai in search of a better job. In this occasion, a bureaucratic misunderstanding leads her to stumble upon the application for her local city elections and she decides to run. During her campaign she stresses her goal to fix the road leading up to her clinic, to prevent cars and ambulances from getting stuck in mud when driving patients to the entrance of the emergency room. Her political race mobilizes the engagement of her two sisters and attempts to move the traditional society, to one where there is a more balanced access to resources and opportunities for both genders.

The beauty and effectiveness of The Perfect Candidate is the way it focuses on challenging the patriarchal system, not on the basis of providing equal quotas to men and women, but simply by allowing qualified people to run for office, regardless of their gender. The female Saudi doctor, who decides to get engaged with politics, has a pragmatic aim to contribute for the betterment of her town. 

The film shows effectively the multifaceted existence of a woman in Saudi Arabia, who can drive, but has to wear a Niqab, who has utter freedom in women-only gatherings or at home, but may be discriminated at work on the basis of her sex. Haifaa Al Mansour maintains a critical but objective depiction of Saudi Arabia, and ultimately delivers an optimistic perspective on how this country stands at a crossroads, and the way it should grasp the opportunity to participate in the changes towards a more progressive and inclusive society.

Written by: Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

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Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi, is a film critic, culture and foreign affairs reporter, screenwriter, film-maker and visual artist. She studied in a British school in Milan, graduated in Political Sciences, got her Masters in screenwriting and film production and studied at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in New York and Los Angeles. Chiara’s “Material Puns” use wordplay to weld the title of the painting with the materials placed on canvas, through an ironic reinterpretation of Pop-Art, Dadaism and Ready Made. She exhibited her artwork in Milan, Rome, Venice, London, Oxford, Paris and Manhattan. Chiara works as a reporter for online, print, radio and television and also as a film festival PR/publicist. As a bi-lingual journalist (English and Italian), who is also fluent in French and Spanish, she is a member of the Foreign Press Association in New York, the Women Film Critics Circle in New York, the Italian Association of Journalists in Milan and the Federation of Film Critics of Europe and the Mediterranean. Chiara is also a Professor of Phenomenology of Contemporary Arts at IED University in Milan.

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