Wadjda is important and amazing

Carol Bowditch reviews the boundary-pushing, landmark offering from Haifaa al-Mansour:

Can I just start with saying that you need to see this film? It’s gratifying, it’s important and amazing. Feel free to switch over to your local cineplex’s website now to check for it’s listings. Actually, do that later…

The reason this film is so worthy of my – and high players within the international film world’s – praise is that it is rule-breaking and progressive. It was born from a country in which cinema was banned for decades (and still only sparingly exists), has ridiculously few females participating and creating within the industry, and has only a slight figure of releases each year. In the 70s, cinemas and viewing spaces In Saudi Arabia were plentiful, but are since a distant memory, due to features that could possibly contain threats to Islam and the government. Can you imagine? No cinema?! No simple date nights, nowhere to hide when you’ve had an utterly shit day, no Wes Anderson wonderment on the big screen?!

wadjda5Haifaa al-Mansour (pictured right) is a leading maverick and trouble-maker within the Arabic states. She exists as the only female filmmaker in Saudi Arabia and we praise her for her excellence and for the invaluable contribution to cinema that she continues to forge. She wrote and directed Wadjda, the female-heavy tale with the simple premise – young girl wants a bike and saves money to do so…

Young Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) bops to Grouplove’s Tounge Tied as her mother tells her to turn off that damn racket. The spunky young girl hopes to save her little pocket money to buy a bike to race her friend Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani) around the streets Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He’s got the advantage of the bike for now, but Wadjda is one tough chick and can’t have him taking all the glory of the streets. The normality of young life ends there for the adorable Wadjda, who stomps about in her beaten up trainers that are only seen in glimpses underneath her modest abbayah (outdoors appropriate dress).

The female-centric roles that surround Wadjda extend to her schoolmates and educators. The young carefree girl attends a school run by a value-strong woman, Ms Hussa (Ahd Kamel), who is also extremely beautiful (physically – within the confines of the female-only building). She believes that young women shouldn’t be seen nor heard, that laughter is wrong, that “a woman’s voice is her nakedness”…

Sexuality and intimacy (from those outside of the family) is so far removed. When Wadja gets in a scrape while playing with Abdullah,  her Mother is ashamed and yells “what is bleeding!?… Your virginity!?” It is funny and heartbreaking at the same time that simple childhood pleasures – riding a bike and messing about with friends must be sectioned off and cloaked within the hyper conservative society.

The film marks a lot of ‘firsts’. It was the first feature film role for both Waad Mohammed and Reem Abdullah. It was the first full-length feature ever filmed entirely inside the Kingdom. And, most significantly, created by the first female filmmaker from Saudi Arabia. After sampling the incredible boundary-pushing talent that was responsible for Wadjda, I hope to see more features from that part of the world and from these innovators in the coming years.

Wadjda review by Carol Bowditch