Film Review: Wadjda (2012)
Occasion: Movie with the folks
Wadjda is a complex and deeply personal look at what it is to be female in Saudi Arabia. Eleven year old Wadjda (Mohammed) seems out of place in the confines of the culture she has been raised in. Sneaker-wearing, often unveiled and incredibly entrepreneurial, she has only one desire: to one day own her own bicycle and race her friend Abdullah (Algohani). But every time she gets closer to reaching her dream, Wadjda is confronted by the expectations upon her imposed by her family, her school and her country.
Every woman in the film is defined by the men in their lives except Wadjda herself. The principal stands fiercely moral in the face of whispers of a scandal between her and a “thief”, one of Wadjda’s pre-pubescent classmates is married to a twenty-year-old man and devastatingly, her mother’s inner and outer beauty is tainted by her desperation to keep her husband happy enough to stop him from taking a second wife. Unlike them, Wadjda’s own freedom is defined by her trailing headscarf, her sneakers, the rock music she listens to, and in particular her friendship with Abdullah, to which her mother so clearly disapproves.
There are some interesting anecdotes about the filming of Wadjda which I think should be noted given its subject matter. To maintain authenticity, it was filmed in Saudi Arabia, and director Al-Mansour had to stay inside a van while filming exterior scenes as she was not allowed to work publicly with men. Funding was gained in part by German entities, since Saudi Arabia’s own film industry is so minor. Al-Mansour is also the kingdom’s only female film maker.
Wadjda is a feature debut from a country devoid of the varied film culture enjoyed in many other countries. It is not a perfect film, but it is an important one. Al-Mansour has allowed Western audiences a glimpse into her world and the stars of her film convey her message with deftness and sincerity.
Directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour
Starring Waad Mohammed, Reem Abdullah, Abdullrahman Algohani, Sultan Al Assaf and Ahd Kamel