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Night Courier (Mandoob)

Crime thriller about call-centre-worker-turned-drug-dealer inserts some grit into the squeaky clean capital of Saudi Arabia - in the Official Selection of the 41st Turin International Film Festival.

What may come across as a conventional and even unimaginative crime thriller to Western eyes is in reality a dirty movie for Saudi audiences. The topics of violence, alcohol and underground parties are still a taboo in the largest country of the Middle East. Night Courier succeeds at: 1) introducing novel and subversive themes to Saudi people; and 2) offering international audiences a peculiar peak into a country that until recently was one of the most closed nations on this planet. It is very rare for Saudi cinema to reach the international film circuit: Night Courier premiered earlier this year at the prestigious Toronto International Film Festival.

Despite vaguely denouncing the trappings of the gig economy, this isn’t quite what you would call a social realist drama. Ali Kalthami’s first feature film is more Michael Mann than Ken Loach (in fact, the former’s latest film Ferrari closes the 3rd Red Sea International Film, where Night Courier sees its Middle Eastern premiere). It chronicles the misadventures of the middle-aged, heavily moustached and avuncular Fahad (Mohammed Aldokhei), as he’s fired from his legal call centre after cathartically firing an extinguisher on his ruthless bosses following a “voluntary redundancy” discussion. He then lands a job trading “drugs” at night. The action takes place in Riyadh.

Fahad is a selfless human being. The ultimate good guy forced to go down the wrong route. He does not seek riches for the sake of the riches. Instead, he wishes to help his ailing father, who needs money for a surgery. Fahad’s exploitation and poverty are just a plot device intended to drive the crime narrative forward. This is no criticism of capitalism, or of the Saudi laws and absolute monarchy. In fact, the country has no constitution. Rulings are entirely based on Sharia, the Islamic law derived from the Qur’an and the Sunnah (Islamic tradition).

He delivers the illegal substances to super rich people, and also young people at underground silent disco parties (those where everyone wears headphones, presumably in an attempt to keep noise to a minimum and avoid drawing the attention of snitching neighbours). These “drugs” are in reality whiskey bottles, a serious offence in this entirely dry nation. People caught with alcohol in their possession in Saudi Arabia are often sentenced to lashes or given a prison sentence. That’s a very bitter aftertaste and a heady hangover!

Night Courier is filmed mostly at night, with abundant artificial lighting. The hues are chiefly green and blue, as if the director and his DoP Ahmed Tahoun wanted to infuse some coldness into the scorching hot, desert and arid nation normally defined the shades of golden instead. They seek a few derelict and vaguely impoverished settings in order to provide this detective thriller with the gritty texture typically associated with the such genre. While never capturing abject poverty, they do expose a facet of Saudi Arabia that most people are not familiar with.

At 110 minutes, Mandoob is gripping enough as a crime thriller, supported by Aldokhei’s realistic and compassionate performance. The plot is not without some loose ends, causing viewers to drift away inadvertently at times. The adrenaline-fuelled grand finale has a little surprise in store. An interesting little film worth a viewing.

Night Courier (Mandoob) is in the Official Selection of the 41st Turin International Film Festival.

By Victor Fraga - 30-11-2023

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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