Saudi Film ‘Mandoob’ Breaking Boundaries



Ali Kalthami’s satirical drama “Mandoob” (“Night Courier”) examines the class divide in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, telling the story of a hapless delivery man and the desperate avenues he takes to make money.

Comedic actor Mohammed Aldokhei plays Fahad, who finds himself in a precarious situation after he is fired from his day job at a call center. Trying to make ends meet, and help his ailing father get necessary medical treatment, Fahad embarks on an illicit scheme to sell stolen liquor while delivering food to wealthy customers.

The film, which unspooled in Toronto and at the Zurich Film Festival, is also a visual tour of Riyadh and its low-income and working-class neighborhoods, mostly by night and often in the rain. Kalthami was eager to capture the city and its glaring lights during the country’s short rainy season. The wide, multi-lane streets and heavy traffic also allowed the director to pay homage to a beloved film, Federico Fellini’s “8½,” in his own opening shot.     

Another key scene, in which an awestruck Fahad enters a luxurious penthouse where the owner is hosting a soirée, mirrors an incident that Kalthami witnessed at a similar celebrity-filled gathering that lingered long in his memory.

“The delivery guy walked in, noticing who was in the room, and I understood what he was thinking,” Kalthami says. Having worked as a cashier in a hospital as a young man gave him insight into the social disparity he sought to portray in the film, he adds.

Crafting a story about a delivery man gave Kalthami the ideal protagonist to navigate the city, “seeing different demographics and different social behavior” and providing a window for audiences to observe the often darker aspects of Saudi society.

At the same time, Kalthami had been eager to make a film about someone whose life is falling apart, “a demolition. … I liked that idea being this guy.”

The word “mandoob,” the film notes, can mean a delivery person as well as someone who is mourned because of their loss or misfortune.

For Kalthami, Fahad also represents many typical Saudi men whose pride and ego often keep “us from moving forward,” and provides a look at “the dynamics of our society.”

He adds, “If you lose the ego, in every endeavor that I’ve [taken part in], you kind of move forward and collaborate very well.” Men like Fahad, however, have their beliefs and stick to their principles and never change, he adds.   

The film also examines the impact of the rapid social changes that are taking place in Saudi Arabia and the difficulty some people have in adapting to new realities.

Comedic actor Mohammed Aldokhei plays Fahad in “Mandoob.”
Courtesy of Telfaz11

“It is important to show these kinds of social norms that to everybody else are really normal, but to Saudi are new. We had women integrated in the work force three to four years ago, that’s it. So these norms are just beginning. What is the relationship between men and women? Where does friendship start and romance ends? All of these things Saudis are experiencing, especially the youth.

“The idea of a woman being a friend and being a co-worker is always a discussion.” For many, especially older men, it’s a very new reality that is difficult to navigate, Kalthami adds.

The character of Fahad is dealing with his own identity amid this change, Kalthami explains. “I wanted to paint him as a classic old Saudi man, with his mustache – that’s important to the way he looks – and the way he wears his shemagh [traditional headdress].”

As things loosen up, Kalthami predicts these changing norms will be discussed more and more in films and theater. “It’s a new phenomenon and it’s good to just talk about it because I rarely see the subject matter being out there in Saudi.”      

Kalthami has won praise for breaking new ground with “Mandoob,” but the director says tackling weighty subjects is not exactly new for him.

“Well, we did it so many times, where people were like, ‘You guys are crazy for doing this topic.”

He and his collaborators have covered controversial social topics in past works, including internet videos going back seven to eight years ago, Kalthami adds.  

“Boundaries for me are an imaginary thing that people break already in the oral culture and oral storytelling. If you go to my tribe and other tribes in Saudi Arabia, and you listen to these old people talking and to their stories, you will discover that, okay, it’s just an imaginary thing in people’s perception.

“When I listen to my grandfather or father speaking and [people from] other tribes speaking — and that form of storytelling is kind of distinct — they speak about very entertaining subject matter, very taboo subject matter, and I’m continuing that. But I think dark comedy helps and not taking yourself seriously, not taking the subject matter seriously as well. And it’s fun.”

“Mandoob” had its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in the Discovery section.
Courtesy of Telfaz11

People understand when a story is told with respect to the norm, and that is the case with “Mandoob,” Kalthami adds.

“Humor is a great tool to diffuse all of these notions and I think it improves our lives. … You need people with film and satire to actually discuss these things that should be discussed.”

It’s something that filmmakers, artists and journalists can do but with respect and without creating division, he adds. “Gather people around you. Don’t do something that will separate people. Gather people around the fire.”

Kalthami, who also serves as chief creative officer of Riyadh and Dubai-based production company Telfaz11, is currently developing a TV series and is also planning a global story set in Saudi Arabia.

“It’s the perfect time now in Saudi to tell a global story with American actors.” Kalthami describes the film as a satire, a bit like “Triangle of Sadness,” about the current situation in Saudi Arabia from the perspective of Western elites visiting the country.

MPM Premium is selling “Mandoob” internationally.


Source link

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.