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Maryam takes us inside woman sphere in Saudi Arabia and gives us an insight into its life-threatening and absurd limitations. The willful doctor Maryam portrays a closed society's written and unwritten rules.

A woman may be an emergency physician but not show the face of male patients. From 2018, a woman has been allowed to drive a car, but must be wearing nikab where only the eyes are visible.

Director Haifaa al-Mansour effortlessly portrays a life she knows so well.

The environmental depiction is unique and puts the film in a class of its own. Director Haifaa al-Mansour effortlessly portrays a life she knows so well. She is Saudi Arabia's first female feature film director, with a smash debut Venezia in 2012 with Wadjda (The green bike). Last year she was back with Maryam and won Golden Lion.

Rejected by authorities and patients

In many ways, al-Mansour's fourth feature film is an "adult version" of her first. adolescence film Wadjda is about ten-year-old Wadjda, who stretches the strict restrictions on girls to get a bike and race bike with the neighbor boy. In the movie Maryam the strong-willed girl has grown up and is practicing as a doctor. As a woman, she is rejected by both authorities and patients. In order to pave the way to her country's hospital, Maryam spontaneously poses as an election candidate for the municipal council.

 

Both films are fables, which through a clear and understandable goal of the main characters draw us into the fight for equality and justice in a gender-divided everyday life.

Between these two films, the director has managed to create the evocative period drama Mary Shelley and the Netflix movie Nappily Ever After.

When comparing the four films, it strikes me that al-Mansour has a recurring core story and template she follows: a defiant, resourceful and very similar heroine challenges society's expectations of appearance and behavior. This urge to stick to the template is also one of the film's weaknesses. Greater authentic roughness, conflict and consistency could have given the film more suspense, credibility and depth. Maybe a bit of superficial, slick film is necessary to keep up with the authorities as well as the home audience in the Middle East.

Election video goes viral

The director knows well to use speaking situations and an effective imagery to engage; as when the candidate Maryam sits alone in a makeshift and worn back room while the male audience is allowed to sit inside a beautiful tent.

The skewed distribution of rights could quickly become another victim story.

As the audio transmission stops, it is forbidden for her to go in to them. As a woman, she is not allowed to stay in the same room as men outside the family, even though they are her potential voters. This skewed distribution of rights could quickly become another victim story.

Fortunately, Maryam's family is in the movie business. The always beautiful and well-dressed sisters are wedding photographers in the segregated women's department. A potentially lucrative niche, it strikes me – since men are not allowed to be there.

The girls' brilliant knowledge of social media and film skills gives the film a modern and effective grip on what would otherwise have been a fairly traditional story. Maryam and the sisters search for election campaign videos on the internet, and she sits there in full-fledged niqab and gets to record her own campaign video that goes viral overnight.

Supports dramaturgy

The film holds me as a spectator, but not because of the cinematic. Al-Mansour would benefit from lifting the scenes with more elaborate lighting, composition and camera movements. Here one can notice that Saudi Arabia does not have its own film tradition, and the film relies on soap series aesthetics and dramaturgy with advertising-beautiful hair and ditto clothing. The screenplay is characterized by the desire to tell about the recurring injustice women are being exposed to.

To contrast the story, the director has chosen to include a story about how difficult it is to practice music. This parallel story is at first quite compelling: about Maryam's father struggling to get a musical assignment. Most consider him to be on the edge of society's morality as a wedding singer. As a comment on Maryam's struggle to be heard, we also follow his little band and their difficulties.

Both lines have too little friction. The daughter's voluntary election campaign is something her father might be a little too benevolent. The film flows easily, but more depth and personal touch could easily be accommodated.

The film will be shown on Arab film days in Oslo, 18-22. March

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