Dark comedy thrillers aren't usually the first genre attributed, in most people's minds, to films coming out of Saudi Arabia. But Saudi filmmaker and director Ali Kalthami's Mandoob, which had its world premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, offers a surprisingly candid and eye-opening foray into Riyadh's rarely explored illicit underworld. The Kingdom's capital is portrayed as the ultra-modern global metropolis that is, along with its active nightlife and affluent home parties. Basically, it's not the Riyadh of your '90s imagination.

The journey starts quite innocently, as we are introduced to a socially awkward call centre worker, Fahad Al-Gadaani (Mohammed Aldokhei). When he's unexpectedly fired from his job, Fahad finds himself in a difficult situation as he's the caretaker for his ailing father. Through a random set of circumstances, he ends up stealing bootleg alcohol from clandestine booze runners and delivering them for quick cash.

The film's name, "Mandoob," is an Arabic word for courier. The beautiful mansions where he delivers the illegal bottles of alcohol are filled with wealthy and trendy partygoers. Necessity being the root of all evil, the social inequality of opportunities based on class is laid bare. The film follows Fahad through the city's class spectrum—from the grungy streets of Riyadh's poorer neighbourhoods to its wealthy enclaves as his existence straddles from the safety of innocence to the intoxicating lure of temptation. Fahad clearly struggles with the internal moral dilemma spurred by his actions. He's entering into a world where he's ill-prepared to deal with the inevitable repercussions of his choices.

"Fahad comes from a poor family and neighbourhood in Riyadh, which represents my own childhood where I lived in Ministries Neighborhood (Alwazarat) in the nineties; I developed this sense of irony and sarcasm by dealing with everyday hardships, that is the reason why I [understood] that Mandoob [would] have to be infused with sarcasm because it revolves around situations that I have myself gone through," as Kalthami shared.

Fahad's eyes have been opened to an exclusive world he never knew existed, and, like Icarus, he's all too tempted to fly closer and closer to the sun. Baited by the easy money, Fahad keeps looking for new stashes of booze to deliver to new customers.

Photo: TIFF

is Ali Kalthami's debut feature with his co-founded production company, Telfaz11. It follows their earlier release of the wrestling comedy Sattar. Both films have been widely embraced by Saudi audiences. Following its release in Saudi Arabia during the Red Sea International Film Festival, it remained at the top of Saudi box offices for several weeks.

The film is set for its US premiere at the 35th Palm Springs International Film Festival, running from January 4 to 14, 2024.

Comments powered by CComment

About me

Meres J. Weche

Expat and digital maven with a passion for telling stories in words & images. Lived & worked in four continents.

Read more about me

Latest on Instagram


Get my latest stories straight into your inbox!