The word “mandoob” refers to both (1) a delivery person and (2) someone who is mourned because of their loss or misfortune. In Ali Kalthami’s Mandoob, our protagonist is unfortunately someone who fits both of those definitions. Fahad Nassir (played expertly by Mohammed Aldokhi) is a man down on his luck in every way that is important to him. He is poor. He isn’t the masculine head of the household as society tells him he’s supposed to be. And love seems to elude him at an age where, again, society informs him that he ought to have become a husband and father already. So he makes some crucial decisions to change his life. They just all happen to be terrible choices.
Mandoob at its heart is an electric dark comedy about one man’s escalating series of terrible decisions. We see and cringe as Fahad stumbles into a series of unfortunate events and there’s plenty of laughs and pathos from his journey alone. But Kalthami isn’t just interested in Fahad’s journey as an individual. He’s invested in using Fahad’s journey to illuminate contemporary life in a rapidly changing Saudi Arabia.
There are a lot of perceptions about the country, about its people, politics, and place in history. And Kalthami knows this. There are glimpses into the nightlife scene in the capital, Riyadh. There’s a Saudi version of a reality show that is such an insight into how capitalism has morphed in the kingdom that to say the name of it in this review might be a spoiler. There are conversations about Western businessmen operating in the country and their ignorance about the people of a country they hope to extract wealth from.
It’s the wealth that people like Fahad or his family won’t see much from, if anything at all. As Fahad frantically worries about money for himself, his family, the potential for him to create a larger family with a wife and kids, it’s hard not to feel that the funneling wealth is just passing him by, mocking him almost. He feels this in an excellent dinner scene, that people around him are leaving him behind to fade away as a vestige of the past.
Mandoob is at once a tragic farce, a melancholic elegy for the many, and an incisive piece of commentary on who has what options available to them in a country undergoing a whirlwind of change. Deliriously hilarious and deeply heartfelt, it’s a triumphant blending of genres in a story whose pace never pauses to take a breath, until it does, and it’s a breath of contemplation and the unknown.
– The supporting cast of characters is crucial to making Kalthami’s vision come to life: Mohammed Altawya, Hajar Alshammari, and Sarah Taibah in particular do excellent work
– The use of color in particular is quite striking