Selves set free: Saudi film di­rec­tor Haifaa Al-Man­sour’s The Wed­ding Singer’s Daugh­ter de­liv­ers a game-chang­ing mes­sage for Miu Miu’s Women’s Tales series.

Saudi film di­rec­tor Haifaa Al-Man­sour’s The Wed­ding Singer’s Daugh­ter de­liv­ers a game-chang­ing mes­sage for Miu Miu’s Women’s Tales series

China Daily - - WEEKEND LIFE - By SO­NIA ALTSHULER

It’s night-time in 1980s Riyadh, Saudi Ara­bia. Glit­tery and glam­orous heels climb out of cars. Women shrouded in tra­di­tional black abayas make their way into a wed­ding hall, where they re­veal what’s un­der­neath: daz­zling dresses and wild hair. Their true selves are set free, un­seen by the male gaze. There are strict seg­re­ga­tion rules in Saudi weddings. All eyes and ears are on the wed­ding singer, un­til the elec­tric­ity sud­denly cuts out. “This is the worst wed­ding singer ever,” guests mut­ter con­de­scend­ingly. Will the young daugh­ter man­age to save her mother’s dig­nity?

The Wed­ding Singer’s Daugh­ter, di­rected by Haifaa Al-Man­sour, is the 16th com­mis­sion from the Miu Miu Women’s Tales short­film series, which each year pre­mieres at the Venice Film Fes­ti­val in Septem­ber. The works in­vite con­tem­po­rary fe­male di­rec­tors to in­ves­ti­gate van­ity and fem­i­nin­ity in the 21st cen­tury; pre­vi­ous di­rec­tors have in­cluded Dakota Fan­ning, Celia Rowl­son-Hall and Chloë Se­vi­gny.

Al-Man­sour felt a wed­ding was the best en­cap­su­la­tion of Saudi Ara­bia to­day. “I al­ways felt a wed­ding is like the ac­tual mir­ror of so­ci­ety in Saudi Ara­bia,” she ex­plains. “We are al­ways seg­re­gated and our so­ci­eties are frag­mented.

Peo­ple don’t re­ally get to­gether so much in Saudi Ara­bia, apart from weddings, schools, et cetera. In a so­ci­ety where mu­sic is il­le­gal and for­bid­den, I wanted to cap­ture that ten­der­ness, and that kind of ten­sion be­tween the big­ger so­ci­ety and peo­ple who en­ter­tain — those who are meant to bring joy and be cel­e­brated … but that doesn’t hap­pen so much in Saudi Ara­bia.”

Known as the coun­try’s only fe­male film di­rec­tor, the suc­cess of Al-Man­sour’s 2005 doc­u­men­tary Women Without Shad­ows in­flu­enced a new gen­er­a­tion of film­mak­ers. Her in­au­gu­ral fea­ture, Wad­jda, which pre­miered at the Venice Film Fes­ti­val in 2012, is the first fea­ture film shot en­tirely in Saudi Ara­bia and the first by a fe­male di­rec­tor. She also di­rected this year’s Mary Shel­ley, with Elle Fan­ning play­ing the lead role of the au­thor. Al-Man­sour is also the first artist from the Per­sian Gulf re­gion to be in­vited to join the Academy of Mo­tion Pic­ture Arts and Sciences.

Al-Man­sour’s game-chang­ing ca­reer has mir­rored the for­tunes of Saudi Ara­bia, where Crown Prince Mo­hammed bin Sal­man has been over­see­ing new free­doms — women can now drive (as of June this year), visit the cin­ema and work in shops. But Saudi women must still dress in abayas — full-length robes — and many but not all wear the niqab (face­cov­er­ing veil).

“I want to con­tinue mak­ing films,” says Al-Man­sour. “It’s hard to deal with so­ci­eties that are very con­ser­va­tive, but pa­tience pays off — es­pe­cially with cin­ema, which in Saudi Ara­bia was il­le­gal un­til re­cently.” The Saudi gov­ern­ment has given the go-ahead for her new film, The Per­fect Can­di­date, to be shot in the coun­try, with the back­ing of the new na­tional Saudi Film Coun­cil. It’s a huge vic­tory for the di­rec­tor. “I have back­ing and fund­ing from the gov­ern­ment now that cin­ema is le­gal again, so I will not be hid­ing in a van and I will be able to shoot in the streets — more re­laxed, more en­gaged with the art.”

To sub­stan­ti­ate the point about the grow­ing nar­ra­tive of fem­i­nine power, Al-Man­sour cast Los An­ge­les-based Saudi pop singer Rotana Tarab­zouni, a role model to women world over, as the wed­ding singer in The

Wed­ding Singer’s Daugh­ter. “I feel like I truly rep­re­sent the grow­ing pains of Saudi Ara­bia,” says Tarab­zouni. “And I have lived on both sides of it. I think of my­self and women of my gen­er­a­tion as the nec­es­sary and ex­cit­ing grow­ing pains of any so­ci­ety go­ing through a re­form and artis­tic re­nais­sance.”

“I’m re­ally proud of Miu Miu do­ing all those Women’s Tales,” says Al-Man­sour. “It’s of­ten hard for women to tell their sto­ries, es­pe­cially in film­mak­ing — an in­dus­try so much con­trolled by men as fi­nanciers, pro­duc­ers or di­rec­tors. Now, women are mov­ing for­ward and hav­ing a safe work­ing en­vi­ron­ment. My goal is not to con­demn some­one, but to try to make beau­ti­ful films. Women also need to sup­port each other at the front and back of the cam­era to cre­ate sol­i­dar­ity and power. We can’t move alone. We have to fo­cus to­gether.”

I want to con­tinue mak­ing films, It’s hard to deal with so­ci­eties that are very con­ser­va­tive, but pa­tience pays off – es­pe­cially with cin­ema, which in Saudi Ara­bia was il­le­gal un­til re­cently.” Haifaa Al-Man­sour, Saudi film di­rec­tor

Al-Man­sour felt a wed­ding was the best en­cap­su­la­tion of Saudi Ara­bia to­day.

PHO­TOS BY BRIGITTE LA­COMBE

Top: Haifaa Al-Man­sour. Above: Miu Miu’s lat­est Women’s Tales goes in­side a Saudi wed­ding.

A model in Miu Miu’s cam­paign.

it’s very im­por­tant for women to tell their sto­ries.

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