Official Trailer for Wadjda
A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to snag tickets to a Saudi Arabian film featuring on the international film festival circuit this year, Wadjda. I tend to find that film festival movies can be hit or miss, but Wadjda turned out to be entertaining and enlightening, as it is essentially a feminist story filmed in one of the world's most repressive nations.
Wadjda, the titular character, is a young girl who yearns for a bicycle so she can race her neighbourhood pal, Abdullah. Denied the money she needs by her mother, she adopts various enterprising tactics to earn the funds to secure the shiny, green bike with tasselled handlebars that she glimpses on route to a local toy store one day.
The simple story can be viewed as a lens to wider, more complex social issues operating in Saudi Arabia currently. For example, Wadjda's desire to own and ride her own bicycle mirrors the larger struggle of Saudi women to be allowed to drive, alluded to through Wadjda's mother's struggles with and reliance on her male driver in the film.
At a glance this seems like a fairly sweet but simple coming of age film. The real wonder of Wadjda though is that it is the first movie filmed in Saudi Arabia by a female director. In a country where women are denied many rights and cinema is illegal, this is no mean feat! Director, Haifaa al Mansour approached her project with the advantages of a foreign education and the backing of a progressive member of the Saudi royal family, Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal. However, she was still constrained by the gender politics of her homeland which forced her to direct scenes via walkie-talkie from the back of a van to avoid being seen in public with male cast and crew members in more conservative areas. Tellingly, despite the rave reviews the film has garnered in Western nations, it is yet to secure a release date in a Muslim country.
Wadjda is nothing like the oppressed, pious, and shrouded girl many westerners would expect from a young female Saudi Arabian character. She is smart, sassy, and sarcastic–a new girl heroine!
Girl Museum Inc.