Heading onto video on demand – after its cinema release had to be called off – is The Perfect Candidate, and here’s our review.

When watching The Perfect Candidate, you may find yourself struck with the uncanny sensation that you are watching something familiar, just in a very different setting.

The plot is that of an unlikely candidate running for office in an upcoming election, driven by a personal cause, in this instance fixing the roads outside the medical centre where they work. We follow their fish-out-of-water story as they try to overcome the various obstacles set in their way as they enter this new-to-them world of politics, defending themselves against naysayers and the opposition whilst being embraced by those on their side. All a little familiar, perhaps.

The bit that’s different, however, is the setting – Saudi Arabia – and the fact our Perfect Candidate is a woman, Maryam (Mila Al Zahrani). She lives in a world in which she is treated as a second-class citizen, where her surprise run for office will not be well accepted by all in her local community.

Haiffa Al Mansour’s direction does not shy away from showing the occurrences in Maryam’s daily life that highlight the inequality women face in Saudi Arabia. The film opens with Maryam driving to work. In fact, throughout the film, we are with Maryam on her various car journeys, and at one point her older sister teases Maryam’s request to borrow money from her, as Maryam recently splashed out on a new car. Women in Saudi Arabia only started to be issued licences in 2018 after a decades-long ban.

It’s an example of how things in Saudi Arabia are progressing mostly positively for women, but the film is not afraid to show how things are still bitterly difficult too. Maryam’s newly founded political ambitions, formulated by her ambition for the medical centre she works at to be fully accessible for all of those in need, are met with all manners of differing reactions. These range from bemusement at the improbability of her winning to outright hostility at her ambition exceeding what is expected of her by the more traditional members of her community.

The film’s subplot, involving her musician father finally going on tour after a lifetime of it not being possible, emphasises the sense that this is a nation still divided in what it believes in. There’s also a sense of increasing danger as his tour continues. Juxtaposing the two narratives, of father and daughter experiencing all manner of frustrations in a world not completely ready to accept either of them, exposes how greatly politics in transition can affect all aspects of life.

This is, then, a charming, carefully and sensitively handled story of headstrong and heart-driven people doing what they know to be right in a world that discriminates in all manner of absurd ways. It’s well worth seeking out.

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