A significant portion of the movie audience will not easily gravitate towards a title from lesser-known parts of the world. Often it is fear of the unknown, or sheer ignorance. Still, the genre can offer openings and insights into an unknown culture. You will see that many of these films deal with universal themes and then the origin does not matter. Fortunately, major streaming services like Netflix also offer these types of titles.
There is now a more than real chance that most Dutch people have never seen a Saudi Arabian film and are also struggling with a considerably distorted image of the country. For that alone it’s worth it the matchmaker which gives a nuanced picture of modern Saudi society. Unfortunately, that’s also the only reason to try. Plot-wise, the thriller leaves a lot to be desired and not all viewers will be able to understand the many vagueness that director Abdulmohsen Aldhabaan hits us with.
The independent filmmaker begins with a legend about a woman who teaches her abusive husband a lesson by setting him on fire and being reborn as his slave. We come back to this later when we meet IT specialist Tarek, who, due to his many overtime hours, hardly pays attention to his wife and daughter, but to new intern Salma. The two do not work together for long, because after one day Salma packs her bags.
She leaves a mysterious box for Tarek. The object contains an invitation that could make all her dreams come true. When Tarek decides to accept the proposal, she ends up in a luxurious hotel in the middle of the desert, where she finds many secrets together with like-minded people. He has to leave his family for this.
the matchmaker he doesn’t trust sparkling dialogues, preferring to wrap himself up in mystery. This makes connecting with Tarek and his vague mission difficult. Little is said about the man himself and it is only conjecture about his wishes. The only direct contact he has with Salma is when the two smoke together in the stairwell. It doesn’t go much beyond small talk and a vague warning about a groping boss; fact that will not be deepened further.
There is a great lack of background and context. Aldhabaan navigates between different genres, ranging from romance to mystical thriller. None of these disciplines really catch on and easy interpretation is not easy. Much is left to the empathy of the viewer. With some effort, themes such as insecurity about masculinity, unfulfilled desires, the natural infidelity of men, and the value of family life can be discerned. Tarek’s search becomes almost tangible when Salma’s father asks her to locate his daughter in the desert, but this task also results in unprecedented vagueness.
the matchmaker it is completely elusive and independent of any presence or lack of knowledge about the culture of Saudi Arabia. The undeniably obvious metaphors are forced and don’t stick. The images, taken at a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are stunning. Aldhabaan makes its audience work hard and those who manage to sit through the ride will not feel rewarded.
the matchmaker can be seen in Netflix.