Using warm humour with a lightness of touch, THE PERFECT CANDIDATE is a family drama with a social commentary

3.5 out of 5 stars

Celebrated Saudi director Haifaa Al Mansour makes a welcome return to the London Film Festival with her latest feature THE PERFECT CANDIDATE, an inspiring drama about a young doctor unexpectedly becoming an electoral candidate.

Dr Maryam (Mila Alzahrani) is a young Saudi doctor working in a small-town clinic. Wishing to travel to a medical conference in Dubai, Maryam finds herself in a predicament when her travel papers are found to be expired. Unable to seek the permission of her father who is away on a musical tour, Maryam’s only solution is to become an electoral candidate, the young doctor seeing the opportunity as a chance to make other changes in her life and the lives of others.

Using warm humour with a lightness of touch, THE PERFECT CANDIDATE combines a family drama with social commentary. Together with co-writer Brad Niemann, Al Mansour makes telling an incredibly complex story look effortless, subtly bringing us into the heroine’s world and the indignations – both large and small – she is forced to face on a daily basis. Women may not have the same rights as men in Saudi Arabia but this doesn’t stop them from having plenty of strength and personality in this film.

In her feature debut performance, Mila Alzahrani delivers an engaging performance in the lead role, convincingly portraying the resourceful and determined young woman who will not have her voice silenced. The supporting cast is equally believable in their roles with strong performances from Nora Al Awadh and Dae Al Hilali as Maryam’s siblings Sara and Selma, respectively, the strong family around Maryam still mourning the loss of its matriarch.

While some of the comedy feels a tad formulaic and Maryam’s reconciliation with her family’s tradition of musicality feels a bit rushed, there’s plenty to like with THE PERFECT CANDIDATE, demonstrating that change can only occur when people are prepared to take a stand.

THE PERFECT CANDIDATE screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 7 October 2019.