Netflix’s Saudi Arabian Psychological Thriller ‘The Matchmaker’ Tackles ‘Controversial Subject’ of Temporary Marriages, Says Producer

Netflix on Thursday dropped its Saudi Arabian psychological thriller “The Matchmaker,” which centers on a married IT worker who becomes infatuated with a beautiful intern at his office and ventures into ground that breaks several types of local boundaries.

In the film, which is directed by Abdulmohsen Aldhabaan — whose 2019 directorial debut “Last Visit” depicted Saudi’s patriarchal culture — the protagonist (Hussam Alharthy) winds up following the intern (Nour Alkhadra) to an eerie desert resort where a matchmaker (Reem Alhabib) promises men she will pair them with their perfect bride.

More from Variety

The basic premise behind “The Matchmaker,” which is produced by disruptive Saudi shingle Telfaz 11, was to make a genre movie that played on the practice of “misyar,” a no-strings attached marriage often done secretly in Saudi society. Under the rules of “misyar” the wife waives conventional marriage rights such as cohabitation and financial support. The practice has been legal in the conservative Muslim kingdom for decades.

The film, which has supernatural elements and marks one the first psychological thrillers from Saudi, was shot in AlUla, the sprawling desert area that boasts an ancient city.

Variety spoke to producer Mohammed Alhamoud, who is head of development at Telfaz 11, about why “The Matchmaker” represents a novelty for Saudi Arabia’s fast-growing film industry.

How did “The Matchmaker” germinate creatively?

First of all we wanted to experiment with genre. Saudi filmmaking is still mainly drama and comedy, and we decided that Telfaz should do a psychological thriller. But we also wanted to play with the controversial concept of “misyar,” which is being disputed in Saudi. There is a legal dispute and a cultural dispute; a lot of people are against it. Many men, actually. Not just women. So we came up with the idea of a matchmaker who was actually looking for a specific type of men to invite them to a secret resort in the desert and change their life. That was the very basic idea.

It seems to portray the dynamics between men and women in Saudi in a new way.

We were actually very cautious about that from the beginning. That’s why alongside a male director, we also had female writers with us in the writers’ room. This film might be personal for the director, but from our side we want it to represent what women in Saudi are like today.

For example, the intern is key to the story. Because we had this bored office guy, we then found this stunning new intern. This is actually a new dynamic in Saudi, it’s not something we came up with for the sake of the story. This is like everyday Saudi now: you find men and women mixing in the workplace. Things are changing. It’s not like in 2013 when “Wadjda” [the film about a 10-year-old Saudi girl who wants to ride a bicycle even though it is forbidden in her country] was made. A girl can now ride a bike here.

What’s the target audience for this film?

I would say we were actually going for both genders, because the main story regards a female matchmaker. But at the same time, it’s a character journey of a typically modern Saudi man whose wife is working and maybe even has a better job than him. The idea is to think about a very diverse audience, mainly in Saudi, where people grow up with these mystical stories that have a supernatural element. I think a young audience could be attracted to this film because of the genre. But we did not target a specific age group.

How important is the social aspect of this film?

I think you can make a great horror movie that’s about a very serious issue, and it can reach an adult audience and young one as well. And, at the same time, you can make a social drama that nobody watches, although it talks about the same issue. At Telfaz we wanted to make a good psychological thriller with a strong atmospheric element that was provided by the location at AlUla. So we did not focus on the social aspect first. For us the story is the most important thing, and we wanted this story to be genre-driven but also relevant to Saudi society.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Click here to read the full article.