‘The Matchmaker’ (2023) Review: A Remote Hotel Becomes A Prison For Unfaithful Men In Arabic Film

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There’s a massive chasm between coming up with an absolutely genius idea and executing said genius idea, which can only be bridged with your ability to tell interesting stories (or tell plain stories in an interesting way). You can develop the habit of jotting down the concepts that strike your brain in the middle of the night. But when you wake up and decipher those notes, you’ll probably find only one out of a hundred of them to have some kind of potential. By the time you get to your laptop (or typewriter) to flesh those notes into a spec script, you begin to feel stupid, thereby discarding the project altogether. Others are able to soldier on with those half-baked concepts, structure a half-baked script around them, get it green-lit, and make a mostly decent movie for everyone to see. One such example is the topic of today’s discussion, “The Matchmaker.”

“The Matchmaker” opens with a fable about an entity that listens to the woes of a woman named Aliaa. She was apparently suffering at the hands of her husband, and she wanted a solution for it. So, this entity told her to burn her husband so that it could resurrect him in the form of a mindless zombie. No, the zombie wasn’t a rotting corpse. It looked like a human, but he didn’t have a single thought between his eyes, and he obeyed Aliaa without questioning her. Given the success of this particular operation, Aliaa started to look for other women who needed her help.

In the present day, we follow Tarek, who works for an IT company. He has a wife named Reem and a daughter named Reema. He doesn’t spend a lot of time with them and keeps snooping on the neighboring couple because the grass is always greener on the other side. He listens to misogynistic podcasts at his workplace, and he has a massive crush on a colleague called Salma. Before he can make a move or anything, Salma resigns from the job, leaving behind a weird wedding invitation for Tarek’s boss, Abu Mouath. Instead of delivering it to Abu, Tarek assumes his identity and reaches the destination, only to find himself in a hotel in the middle of the desert, filled with multiple mindless zombies working for a woman who is probably the ageless Aliaa.

As you can clearly see, the concept of not even teaching unfaithful men a lesson but turning them into zombies because that’s better than having a husband with consciousness is pretty relevant. Women’s rights in countries like Saudi Arabia are an absolute travesty. Patriarchal practices and general misogyny have been on the rise, with constant pushback from the women of the country. And regression has been made possible through its legal system and politics. “The Matchmaker” chooses to attack one specific aspect of the culture of Saudi Arabia, and that is male guardianship, where every woman is required to have a male guardian.

Women couldn’t travel abroad without a man’s permission until 2019. Women who tried to run away from an abusive relationship were arrested and accused of criminal behavior as recently as 2020. Now, although laws are currently being passed to remove the hold that a man has over a woman’s life, they are being flouted by bigoted individuals under the garb of traditionalism. Therefore, the sight of women following the rule of keeping a male guardian but turning them into a vegetable (a metaphorical one) is actually genius and, in a way, empowering. However, as the realization sets in that Fahad Alastaa and Abdulmohsen Al-Dhabaan aren’t all that interested in doing anything more with this twist, the viewing experience becomes quite boring.

The way “The Matchmaker” uses the barren landscape as an inescapable prison for all these men is certainly fascinating. It feels like a double-edged sword because there’s nothing that is stopping someone from running away, but as soon as they step outside the boundaries of that hotel, things become so disorienting that they have no other choice but to return. But this sense of disorientation or the weird images being projected into Tarek’s mind are too matter-of-fact to make any kind of lasting impact.

I understand that Al-Dhabaan probably had to play it safe to avoid being jailed or face some kind of legal issue in real life. That’s why he keeps everything low-key enough to ensure that his film doesn’t show up on the radar of those in charge of censorship while also getting his message across to the people who need to hear it.  However, at the end of the day, if a person likes the film, then and only then are they going to look for context. If they don’t like it for a myriad of reasons, they won’t look up the well-meaning agenda behind the film, and the whole endeavor will feel futile. Either way, the point still stands that Al-Dhabaan should’ve gone harder for the scary moments and the hallucinatory imagery in “The Matchmaker.”

Much like the reserved nature of the film’s tone, the performances from the entire cast are restrained. Hussam Alharthi plays the audience surrogate as he experiences everything happening around him in real-time. So, Hussam has to be a blank slate. His sense of curiosity, his frustration regarding the rules of the hotel, and even his expression of fear upon learning what’s happening to him are kind of mellow. There are no loud reactions to be found here, which is surprising, to say the least.

Reem Al Habib, the owner of the hotel, has an incredible screen presence. Every time she is in the frame, your eyes are drawn to her while your ears are focused on what she’s saying. For the most part, Nour Alkhadra is the bait. Therefore, she doesn’t have a lot of lines. Hence, she has to exhibit the allure of her character through her body language. Her final interaction with Reem Al Habib is great, as she gets to underscore everything that the movie is trying to talk about. Apart from them, the rest of the actors either don’t have enough screen time or are muted. That said, they don’t stick out and help maintain the flow of the scenes.

Fahad Alastaa and Abdulmohsen Al-Dhabaan aren’t fans of ambiguity, I guess, because at the end of “The Matchmaker,” we get a pretty explicit answer for what has happened to Tarek and what’s going to happen to him in the near future. That said, despite the straightforwardness of the storytellers, it does get you thinking about a lot of things, with the most important one being the regression in Saudi Arabia. If the movie motivates even one person to read up on the situation of women in that country, I think it’ll be a win for Al-Dhabaan. In addition to all that, depending on how strongly you agree or disagree with the film’s stance on male guardianship, Salma’s final decision is undoubtedly going to pinch you. From where I stand, I think she was too forgiving. But that’s just me.


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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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