Reviews - Wadjda
Reviewed By Vaughan Ames
We started with "Wadjda", then; the story of a young girl in Saudi Arabia. From the very first shot – of children's feet - two things became obvious; this was going to be a film where ideas were going to be subtle, not in your face and the girl at the back was going to be Wadjda. We saw a line of girl's smart, black shoes with white socks under long robes... plus one pair of Converse sneakers; Wadjda was NOT going to be a girl who followed the rules!
"Wadjda" was the first film ever made totally in Saudi Arabia and, amazingly, was also made by a woman director – Haifaa Al Mansour. In a country with no cinema, where woman are not allowed to show their faces in public and where girls are not allowed to ride bikes (this will become relevent),this was no mean feat; Al Monsour was forced to do a lot of the direction hiding in the back of vans and watching through a monitor screen. She set out to show the absurdity of their rules, rather than a political polemic and, using a young girl as the hero she could use the youthful view of the world to help – not understanding unfair rules is equally true in the UK when you are 10. By making Wadjda a rebellious 'Tom boy', she was guaranteed to get into conflicts.
Wadjda doesn't want to spend her time learning the Quran, she wants to be out in the street with her friend Abdullah (who worships her; "I want to marry you when we are older", he tells her). After a playful scuffle with him, she tells him she could ride a bike much quicker than him if she had one; as if by magic, there follows a beautiful scene when a bike on top of a car appears to be sailing through the air, so she sets out to get it for herself. Her mother tells her she cannot have one ("you won't be able to have babies if you ride a bike" (!!)) and, besides, her mother is busy trying to convince her absent husband not to get a second wife so that he can get a male child.
Wadjda is left trying to save money to buy it for herself; she comes up with some great rackets, including getting money to take love notes from a girl friend to her lover (they are, of course, not allowed to meet alone), but is never going to save enough. Fortune intercedes once more when a competition is announced at her school; the best recitation of the Quran will win her enough.
Overnight, Wadjda turns from the school tearaway to the model pupil, learning verses about "not lying, not fooling yourself" and blinking away any thoughts these might bring in her quest for the bike. You could almost feel the force in the cinema when she reaches the final three; "Go on, Wadjda, you can do it!" Well, she did...but her teacher had one last way to prevent her dream. When asked what she would spend the money on, Wadjda was foolish enough to admit the bike; "Wouldn't it be better to donate it to Palestine?" her teacher asks...
All was lost, but this was a feelgood movie, showing hope in the mad world. Her mother was late home and was on the roof when Wadjda found her. Her husband had decided to marry again and, in a fit of liberal thinking, Mum has decided that Wadjda should have a chance in this male world; the bike was hers! The film ends with Wadjda racing Abdullah down an open street, leaving him miles behind in her wake and riding off into the future of hope...
A great film which the audience loved. Whilst not being TOO subtle, it kept the politics all low key at least...and, apparently succeeded too; the Saudi rules have been relaxed and females are now allowed to ride bikes...but only in parkland. It is a start; Wadjda shows some hope for the future.
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