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FILM OF THE WEEK Pitched against patriarchy

MARIA DUARTE recommends a film on a woman confronting the male-dominated madness of Saudi Arabia

Perfect Candidate (PG)
Directed by Haifaa al-Mansour

FROM Saudi Arabia's first female film-maker comes an insightful exploration of women’s changing roles in the kingdom in this passionate homage to the female spirit.

 

It’s a drama that analyses women’s battle against a patriarchal society in which they face constant sexism, misogyny and being treated like second-class citizens.

 

Through the eyes of young female doctor Maryam (a standout Mila Al Zahrani), co-writer and director Haifaa al-Mansour shows the discrimination she and others face in their daily work and life.

 

The film opens with Maryam in a niqab driving a car — which Saudi women have been allowed to do only since last year — to the clinic and attending an elderly male patient who refuses to be treated by her because of her gender.

 

Yet he is happy to be dealt with by male nurses who subsequently misdiagnose his condition and put his life in danger. All is sanctioned by her boss, who undermines her authority in front of everyone by siding with the old man's wishes.

 

Through sheer accident, Maryam finds herself running in the local council elections as the first-ever female candidate on a promise to fix and pave the flooded dirt road outside the clinic, which is proving a health and safety hazard to her patients.

 

As her campaign gains momentum, with the help of her two sisters — the youngest under duress — she gains more confidence and a determination to win. She discards the niqab for the hijab and declares war on her male opponent.

 

Her wedding-singer father, who supports all his daughters’ endeavours while complaining that they are going to give him a heart attack, is himself pursuing his lifelong dream of touring with his band and playing to proper audiences now that it is allowed.

 

While he is trying to make the country better through music and art, Maryam wants to do it through medicine.

 

Through Maryam’s endeavours, Al-Mansour gives us a rare glimpse into the unique private world of Saudi women in public — under strict control — and behind closed doors at home or in gender segregated gatherings, where they let their hair down.

 

It is a rousing and eye-opening ride.

 

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