Day seven, aside from being my birthday, was a day of just two films, both of which were fairly decent as films go, if rather earnest, but both of which shone a light on their respective countries in quite revealing ways. Being directed by women, they had lessons particularly about the role and status of women in Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh.
المرشحة المثالية (The Perfect Candidate, 2019) [Saudi Arabia/Germany]
This is a film about a highly-educated young woman in Saudi Arabia (Maryam, played by Mila Al Zahrani) who — for various rather overcomplicated plot reasons to do with the palpably unfair bureaucracy surrounding the rights of women (she can’t travel because her legal guardian, her father, didn’t fill out the right forms in the right way) — ends up running as a local municipal political candidate. At this point it follows certain fairly clear generic guidelines, but the will-she-won’t-she-win aspect of the narrative is very much downplayed (the final results are almost an aside) because this is about a woman who is trying to make change happen in a place where such change is greatly resisted. There’s a sense of tension throughout as you wonder whether something terrible is about to happen just around the corner, but this retains a fundamentally hopeful idea about progress told from the perspective of those who have a certain privilege, even as it fairly forthrightly calls out some of the more arcane rules that are designed to police relationships between the sexes. It’s fairly programmatic as a film, but there are some fine, sparky performances from the leads, and it’s likeable (like the director’s pioneering film Wadjda).
Director Haifaa al-Mansour هيفاء المنصور; Writers al-Mansour and Brad Niemann; Cinematographer Patrick Orth; Starring Mila Al Zahrani ميلا الزهراني, Nora Al Awadh نورة العوض; Length 101 minutes.
Seen at Vue West End, London, Tuesday 8 October 2019.
মেড ইন বাংলাদেশ (Made in Bangladesh, 2019) [Bangladesh/France/Denmark/Portugal]
Reminiscent a little perhaps of Made in Dagenham (2010), with which it shares a very similar name, this is a drama about women working in sweatshop conditions trying to organise a labour union. This is of course a good and a noble thing, and honestly it’s always great to see it done, but the film itself can feel a little bit simplistic in the way the drama unfolds. It follows Shimu (Rikita Nandini Shimu), who seems to be the most educated among her group of early-20-something friends. They work in a garment factory, but after the death of a work colleague in a fire, followed by the continued recalcitrance of the management to pay in a timely way for work done, Shimu decides to take action when she’s approached by an NGO worker. Having informed her of her rights under law, the NGO seems to largely disappear from the film, as Shimu must forge her own path to finding her rights, battling against an aged Bangladeshi bureaucracy (one particularly memorable shot is of an office worker’s room piled high with ancient bundles of documents). It’s a film of colour and joy even amongst the endless disheartenment brought on by the exploitative working conditions, damaging patriarchal control, and a narrative which seems to be inevitably heading towards defeat.
Director Rubaiyat Hossain রুবাইয়াত হোসেন; Writers Hossain and Philippe Barrière; Cinematographer Sabine Lancelin; Starring Rikita Nandini Shimu রিকিতা নন্দীনি শিমু, Novera Rahman; Length 92 minutes.
Seen at BFI Southbank (NFT2), London, Tuesday 8 October 2019.