Wadjda is a 12-year old girl who lives near Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. Although she’s growing up in a conservative country, Wadjda is a girl full of life who wears jeans and sneakers, listens to rock music and dreams only of one thing — to buy a beautiful green bike that will allow her to race with her friend Abdullah. But in the Wahhabi kingdom, bicycles are reserved for men because they ‘pose a threat to the virtue’ of girls. Wadjda’s mother therefore refuses to give her any money for the purchase. Determined to raise the money herself, Wadjda decides to participate in a contest organized by her Qur’anic recitation school — in order to win enough money to buy the green bike.
Wadjda is the first feature-length film made in the kingdom and it has a 100% Saudi cast. For this reason alone, it deserves our attention. But who would have thought the first major Saudi Arabian film would be made by a woman? Haifa Al Mansoor has set the ball rolling for future filmmakers in the kingdom and has done so in honourable fashion.
The set is well executed and the casting is right, Waad Mohamed plays the role of Wadjda and Reem Abdullah plays the role of her mother. Waad is very convincing with the ‘natural tomboy’ role, proudly displaying her tattoos and wearing headphones — no ‘Abaya’ for this young independent!
This film is about hope (green bike), toughness (Wadjda’s perseverance), faith (she believes in her cause), friendship (Addellah her friend), her mother’s love towards her father and for Wadjda, principles (religious, societal, tribal) and discipline (from the school principal). The story is told with extraordinary tenderness and authenticity. Apart from the necessary artistic license, it is almost documentary-like in its viewpoint.
The shining accomplishment of filmmaker Haifa Al Mansoor is that the film never falls into a caricature of itself and she knows how to tickle the heartstrings of our humanity. She hits hard and with precision, marking well her entrance into the world of contemporary filmmakers.
It is a work made all the more remarkable by the fact that the director bravely addresses subjects still considered taboo in Saudi Arabia. She shows us the life of a normal Saudi family — one far removed from the clichés of wealthy Arabs that we expect to see. The mother is shown working, cooking, shopping for cosmetics, seducing her husband, and is a woman with the same concerns that many women encounter, except for the fact that her daily reality is unimaginably difficult.
Through Wadjda’s eyes, we perceive how the lifelong outlook of a young girl can be shaped at a very early age, so much so, that she will either become emancipated or hampered by traditions. Far more than a film about a girl and a bike, it is a story of a life and of overcoming adversity with bravery, honour and resolve!
WADJDA (2013) with Waad Haifaa Al Mansour Mohamed and Reem Abdullah Abdurrahman Al Guhani.
Arabian Gazette Review of this movie: ★★★★★
(Five stars out of five)