Tuesday, February 17, 2015

movie review: Wadjda

Director: Haifaa Al Mansour

Wadjda is groundbreaking for a couple of reasons. First, it is the first feature length movie to be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia. Second, it is written and directed by a woman and is about the lives of women and girls in a place where we often do not get to hear their voices. 

On the surface, it is a simple story of a 10 year old girl, Wadjda (Waad Mohammed), who wants a bike so she can race with her friend Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani). But there are a couple of problems: Wadjda doesn't have a bike, and even if she did, a lot of people would think it was scandalous for her to ride a bike because she's a girl. 

We see Wadjda go to school, get in trouble for being a spirited kid, come home and interact with her parents, sass her mom , and dream about her bike. In an effort to keep the toy store man sweet (so he won't sell the bike while she schemes to get the money), she makes him a mix tape. "Since we're friends," she says. He smiles, charmed. But how will she get the money? It's ok--she has a plan. 

Her parents are going through a tough time, because her father's family is pressuring him to take another wife. Wadjda's mother (Reem Abdullah) is upset because she loves her husband, and he's her one and only. Wadjda's father (Sultan Al Assaf) is upset because he also loves his wife and daughter, but he knows there is no son to carry on the family line.

The film examines the toll that societal oppression plays in people's lives, particularly women, but it does not make overt commentary. However, the filmmaker's point of view is clear, and she turns an unwavering and glad eye to the potential that lies in half the population of Saudi Arabia, particularly in Wadjda's generation.

The actors are all excellent, including all the children, and the narrative is compact and very well paced. I thoroughly enjoyed this little slice of Saudi life and I highly recommend it.  

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