Wadjda (Haifaa Al-Mansour, 2013)

What's it about? 10-year old tomboy Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) lives in Riyadh, where she dreams of owning a new bicycle so she can beat her male friend in a race. However, the society she lives in disapproves of such activities for girls.

Is it any good? In its story of a plucky young girl bucking the conventions of her male-dominated society, this is straightforward, heart-warming stuff - we've seen similar stories in Whale Rider, Brave and Persepolis. Heck, even The Next Karate Kid had a go at it, although it's mostly terrible, so don't watch it. However, the contemporary Saudi Arabian setting gives this an extra resonance, given the recent media reports about oppression of women in the country. It is this theme that runs elegantly through the film, as the female's place in Wadjda's world is highlighted in some wonderfully subtle moments; a young girl is embarrassed when classmates giggle at her wedding photos; Wadjda defiantly pins her handwritten name to the map of her male-only family tree; the mother-daughter photo print on the side of a mug, in which the mother's abaya renders her little more than an indistinguishable shadow. It's an approach which works much more affectingly than simply portraying the broad inequalities which we read about in the press. It also benefits from the appealingly spunky performance of the delightful Mohammed in the lead, as she challenges the traditional values of the older women who surround her. Through her eyes, the film transcends the simple plot to be something more important. Perhaps the most admirable aspect of the film is that it has every right to be angry, but is instead warm and gently optimistic about the future and inevitable change in the country. Worth seeing.

Anything else I should know? A little background reading about the film's production will increase your appreciation of the film. Not only is this is the first film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, but it is directed by a woman. A WOMAN! Due to the very restrictions depicted in the film, Al-Mansour was was not allowed to mix with the male crew during the shoot, meaning she often had to direct scenes by walkie-talkie from the back of a van, dressed in full abaya, to ensure she would not be visible. Here's an interview which explains her motivations and experiences in making the film. If she can make the film in that environment, the least you can do is take 90 mins to watch what she made. It might not rock your world, but it could rock hers.

What does the Fonz think? Wadjda waiting for? Get on your bike and see it.





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