The Perfect Candidate is Saudi filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour’s compelling drama about a woman physician’s plight to get the impassable dirt road leading to the local hospital paved so that patients can get to the emergency ward in time for their lives to be saved. Because her appeals to the authorities are consistently denied — or worse yet, ignored — Dr. Maryam Alsafan (Mila Al Zahrani) decides that she will campaign for election to the town council with road repair as the sole issue presented on her platform.
Her fighting spirit is further fueled by the fact that many male patients who are in dire need of medical treatment refuse to let her touch them because she is a woman. The town’s men’s ridicule and denial of her candidacy is infuriating — but she is not to be deterred.
In following the good doctor’s political campaign, the ever engaging film and its slow burn story reveal a great deal about the subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which Saudi women, while adhering to the rules of hijab, effectively take a stand against the legally imposed gender discrimination and behavioral restrictions imposed on them by their fathers and husbands who — with protection of the law and support of cultural customs — self-righteously control their actions.
As written, Dr. Maryam Alsafan is a calmly courageous character, and Mila Al Zahrani brings the good doctor to life with a brave and committed performance that garners great empathy.
Writer/director Haifaa Al-Mansour is a force to be reckoned with in the Saudi cinema scene. Her Wadjda (2012) received wide critical acclaim, and her Mary Shelley (2017) was featured on AWFJ.org as our Movie of the Week.