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Haifaa Al Mansour Brings a New Tale Set in Saudi to Venice


Haifaa Al Mansour and Dakota Fanning at the Venice Film Festival. Image: Getty

It is a story set in 1980s Riyadh, but Haifaa Al Mansour‘s latest work debuted a little further from home. The Saudi Arabian director, who in 2012 made history as the first female filmmaker from the Kingdom with her award-winning feature Wadjda, premiered her new short film at the Venice Film Festival on Sunday evening. The Wedding Singer’s Daughter is the latest installment in Miu Miu‘s Women’s Tales, a short-film series launched by the Italian fashion house in 2011.

Selected directors are tasked with investigating vanity and femininity in the 21st century by the maison, with previous films created by industry icons including Chloë Sevigny, Ava DuVernay, and Zoe Cassavetes. Al Mansour’s piece premiered alongside Hello Apartment, actress Dakota Fanning‘s directorial debut, marking the 15th and 16th commissioned creations by Miu Miu.

A still from Haifaa Al Mansour's The Wedding Singer's Daughter. Image courtesy of Miu Miu

A still from Haifaa Al Mansour’s The Wedding Singer’s Daughter. Image courtesy of Miu Miu

Al Mansour’s work is set during a wedding party in her native Saudi in the 1980s, as a group of women gather to celebrate, dressed in glittery, glamorous heels and evening gowns. An electricity fault cuts short the wedding singer’s performance, with the songstress’s daughter battling to save her mother’s dignity. “For me, the little girl represents the future,” said Al-Mansour, “and the future belongs to outsiders.” Saudi singer Rotana Tarabzouni plays the lead character, and helped compose the film’s music with The Real Satta.

Al Mansour chose to locate the tale at a marital party as “weddings are the actual mirror of society in Saudi Arabia”, she revealed in a statement. “I wanted to tell the story of those people, and capture that tenderness.” The Miu Miu project held a deep significance for the filmmaker, with Al Mansour adding, “it’s very important for women to tell their stories.” “And sometimes it’s hard.”

It is not the first of the director’s creations to be set in the Kingdom, with Wadjda focusing on a Saudi girl who dreams of owning a bicycle. The feature-length film was the first ever foreign-language Oscar entry from Saudi Arabia. Al Mansour, who is now based in Los Angeles, was also behind 2017’s Mary Shelley which, coincidentally, stars her Women’s Tales colleague Dakota Fanning’s sister, Elle Fanning. Her next film, The Perfect Candidate, will be the first feature to be supported by the new national Saudi Film Council, and will be shot in Riyadh this month.

The film tells the story of a young female physician with political ambitions in a male-dominated society, who runs for municipal office while her father is away touring the country. The movie will be co-produced by Al Mansour Productions in Saudi Arabia and Berlin’s Gerhard Meixner and Roman Paul of Razor Film Produktion (who also helped produce her breakout film, Wadjda).

Haifaa Al Mansour

However Mansour believes her experience shooting The Perfect Candidate will be vastly different to that of Wadjda. “When I started making films — I started in 2005, when my first short came out — people didn’t believe in cinema in Saudi Arabia,” the director told AFP last month. “But Saudi Arabia has changed. It will be wonderful to be part of the evolution of film in the country.” Setting her work in her home country is a cause close to Mansour’s heart, who added to AFP that “it is very important to make films there, especially with Saudi Arabia embracing films and allowing film theaters”.

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