Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: Wadjda

As the first film directed by a Saudi woman, and the first full-length feature shot entirely within Saudi Arabia, Wadjda tells a simple but powerful story of an adolescent girl’s irrepressible need for personal freedom. In this case, she simply wants to own and ride a bike.

Sept 10, 2013

-By Shirley Sealy


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1384628-Wadjda_Review_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

The first thing you notice about 10-year old Wadjda (newcomer Waad Mohammed) are her sneakers—black canvas high-tops with purple shoelaces—which provide a stark contrast to the all-black, head-to-toe covering she must wear whenever she goes out of her house. Those shoes tell us right away that this spirited girl is a born rebel.

Although Wadjda does try to observe the Saudi customs regarding women—they cannot look at men on the street, and cannot let their voices be heard in public—she also defies them as often as possible. At school, for instance, she’s a bit of a wheeler-dealer, getting her friends to buy forbidden items like the string bracelets she’s made, or the music tapes she’s copied. And whenever Wadjda is out with her young friend and neighbor Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani), the two torment and tease each other like any two kids anywhere. She always begs for a ride on his bike, and he always refuses—because in Saudi society, riding a bike can compromise a girl’s virtue.

Wadjda feels most free and comfortable at home, where she has a close and loving relationship with her mother (Reem Abdullah, a beauty and reportedly the most popular actress on Saudi TV). But her father (Sultan Al Assaf) is a distant figure, who drops by only every other week or so. While Wadjda’s mother worries that her husband may be planning to take another wife (he is, and does), the girl worries that her dad doesn’t think she’s important enough to keep her name on his proudly displayed family tree.

While it often looks as if Wadjda’s rebellious nature will get her into serious trouble, her charm and innate cleverness usually pull her through. Just as her strict teacher Hussa (Ahd, another beauty) contemplates the kind of punishment she’ll hand out to her “sinful” girls, Wadjda suddenly transforms from a rebel to a model student—announcing she will work very hard to memorize passages from the Koran. Her teacher and her family are greatly impressed. They don’t know, of course, that her efforts have but one aim: She hopes to win a cash prize by reciting the Koran in a religious school contest—and use that cash to buy a bike. Wadjda isn’t the only one surprised by the outcome.

The most astonishing thing about this movie, which has become a favorite on the festival circuit, is that it was made at all—by a woman yet, inside Saudi Arabia, where, even in 2013, there are no movie theatres. But it’s equally remarkable that director Haifaa Al Mansour has so subtly but effectively given us an insider’s view of what life is really like for women living in Saudi society—and at the same time her film holds out hope that that society is now changing for the better.

However, Saudi girls are still sent to segregated schools, and Saudi women still cannot to be seen in public without wearing the full hijab. They are still forbidden from talking to men who are not somehow related to them, and they still can’t drive. And a married woman can still be cast aside, like Wadjda’s mom, when she cannot produce a son to give her husband a new a branch on his family tree. But somewhere within that rigidly religious country, there are young girls like Wadjda, and, thanks to this wonderful film, we may now understand a little better what those girls are up against, and how even a modest step forward—like riding a bike—should be celebrated.


Film Review: Wadjda

As the first film directed by a Saudi woman, and the first full-length feature shot entirely within Saudi Arabia, Wadjda tells a simple but powerful story of an adolescent girl’s irrepressible need for personal freedom. In this case, she simply wants to own and ride a bike.

Sept 10, 2013

-By Shirley Sealy


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1384628-Wadjda_Review_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

The first thing you notice about 10-year old Wadjda (newcomer Waad Mohammed) are her sneakers—black canvas high-tops with purple shoelaces—which provide a stark contrast to the all-black, head-to-toe covering she must wear whenever she goes out of her house. Those shoes tell us right away that this spirited girl is a born rebel.

Although Wadjda does try to observe the Saudi customs regarding women—they cannot look at men on the street, and cannot let their voices be heard in public—she also defies them as often as possible. At school, for instance, she’s a bit of a wheeler-dealer, getting her friends to buy forbidden items like the string bracelets she’s made, or the music tapes she’s copied. And whenever Wadjda is out with her young friend and neighbor Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani), the two torment and tease each other like any two kids anywhere. She always begs for a ride on his bike, and he always refuses—because in Saudi society, riding a bike can compromise a girl’s virtue.

Wadjda feels most free and comfortable at home, where she has a close and loving relationship with her mother (Reem Abdullah, a beauty and reportedly the most popular actress on Saudi TV). But her father (Sultan Al Assaf) is a distant figure, who drops by only every other week or so. While Wadjda’s mother worries that her husband may be planning to take another wife (he is, and does), the girl worries that her dad doesn’t think she’s important enough to keep her name on his proudly displayed family tree.

While it often looks as if Wadjda’s rebellious nature will get her into serious trouble, her charm and innate cleverness usually pull her through. Just as her strict teacher Hussa (Ahd, another beauty) contemplates the kind of punishment she’ll hand out to her “sinful” girls, Wadjda suddenly transforms from a rebel to a model student—announcing she will work very hard to memorize passages from the Koran. Her teacher and her family are greatly impressed. They don’t know, of course, that her efforts have but one aim: She hopes to win a cash prize by reciting the Koran in a religious school contest—and use that cash to buy a bike. Wadjda isn’t the only one surprised by the outcome.

The most astonishing thing about this movie, which has become a favorite on the festival circuit, is that it was made at all—by a woman yet, inside Saudi Arabia, where, even in 2013, there are no movie theatres. But it’s equally remarkable that director Haifaa Al Mansour has so subtly but effectively given us an insider’s view of what life is really like for women living in Saudi society—and at the same time her film holds out hope that that society is now changing for the better.

However, Saudi girls are still sent to segregated schools, and Saudi women still cannot to be seen in public without wearing the full hijab. They are still forbidden from talking to men who are not somehow related to them, and they still can’t drive. And a married woman can still be cast aside, like Wadjda’s mom, when she cannot produce a son to give her husband a new a branch on his family tree. But somewhere within that rigidly religious country, there are young girls like Wadjda, and, thanks to this wonderful film, we may now understand a little better what those girls are up against, and how even a modest step forward—like riding a bike—should be celebrated.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Laggies
Film Review: Laggies

Disappointing comedic entry about a late-20s slacker who won’t grow up is writer/filmmaker Lynn Shelton’s first outing directing someone else’s material. Points here for strong cast and an occasional chuckle, but otherwise there’s just no point. More »

Rudderless
Film Review: Rudderless

Well-done indie drama about a lost-soul house painter reborn through rock ’n’ roll is a nice actor’s showcase for star Billy Crudup and an impressive directorial debut for actor William H. Macy. But in spite of some good work onscreen, both hero and story lack the edge and originality to carry this drama beyond respectability. More »

Camp X-Ray
Film Review: Camp X-Ray

Army guard and Guantanamo detainee form a grudging relationship in a thoughtful but far-fetched drama. More »

The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Film Review: The Tale of The Princess Kaguya

As charming as it is delicate, this unusually low-key, if a tad overlong, animated feature brings yet more prestige to the famed Ghibli output. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Fury Review
Film Review: Fury

American tanks fight superior German forces in the closing days of World War II. More »

Birdman
Film Review: Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Virtuosic camerawork and a stellar ensemble of actors more than make up for the occasional moment of portentous twaddle in Alejandro G. Iñárritu's latest—and maybe his best—film. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here