Saudi superstar director Haifaa Al-Mansour’s latest is a winning homecoming; a seriocomic look at the daily struggles of a doctor running for council – and her fellow women and outsiders – within an Islamic society undergoing dramatic change.
This film is screening in select cinemas and venues across the country. See here for details.
With progressive moves underway to reform life for women within Saudi Arabia, Wadjda director Haifaa al-Mansour returns to her home country. In what could easily be seen as a follow-up to her NZIFF13 crowd-pleaser, The Perfect Candidate illustrates the complexity of change now underway in the kingdom.
We first meet Maryam (Mila Al Zahrani) wearing a niqaab and driving to work at the local hospital, something that has only been possible since 2018. As the female doctor she faces discrimination not only from an elderly male patient (“People won’t succeed if their chief is a woman!”) but also from a colleague reprimanding her for not kowtowing to the patient’s demands.
Her attempt to attend a Dubai medical conference is thwarted by bureaucracy at the airport. Dad’s her guardian and needs to approve her travel visa extension but he’s now on tour and not answering his phone. A race against the clock to get it cleared drolly concludes with her signing up to run for the municipal elections. Her new agenda: to get the road paved outside her hospital so that patients can access necessary healthcare.
With the sibling support of entrepreneurial wedding photographer Selma (Saudi social media star Dhay) and begrudging assistance from teenage Sara, Maryam sets out to win hearts and minds. All the while Dad is away touring the country as an accomplished singer and oud player – itself a controversial occupation in a country where public music performances must have prior approval.
What plays out is a subtle and engaging portrait of life’s little challenges for those on the margins finally being let in, bit by bit, to an Islamic society that is rapidly evolving. — Rebecca McMillan
About the Filmmaker
In 2012, Haifaa al-Mansour became the first Saudi woman to ever direct a feature film. Her debut, Wadjda (2012), was a festival hit and the first feature to be filmed entirely in Saudi Arabia. She has also directed two English-language films, the biopic Mary Shelley (2017) and Nappily Ever After (2018) for Netflix.