Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is a straight-up badass. Under her traditional Saudi Arabian garb, the 10-year-old girl rocks Chuck Taylors, and her cassette player (yeah, she’s that cool) screams indie rock from Grouplove. All Wadjda wants is a bike, so she can race her friend Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohandi), a boy from the neighborhood. Despite being constantly reminded that “girls don’t ride bikes,” Wadjda hustles money left and right, and is so determined that she enters a religious contest in her school where the prize is enough cash to make her dream a reality. The film is directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, the first female Saudi filmmaker, and was the first film ever to be shot entirely in the country. Al-Mansour approaches daunting issues of the macrocosm within the smaller vehicle of the microcosm; truths are voiced through the story of a single family.
She succeeds in showing us how doors are constantly closed on women in the this culture, but she does not do it with a heavy hand. There is a lightness to the film, one that helps to evoke a righteous anger in the viewer, rather than a sonorous pity, and editor Andreas Wodraschke helps this with his humorous match cutting. Wadjda lives with her mother (Reem Abdullah), a stunning woman who is always waiting for her absent husband, who has gone searching for a second wife because she is unable to bear him a son. Because women can’t drive, Mother is dependent on her crabby driver, who her husband pays for, to get her to work each day. While Mother is constantly left in situations where society has forced helplessness upon her, Wadjda takes it upon herself to help her mother in any way she can.
Wadjda is an outcast at her school; constantly at the mercy of her rigid headmistress who instills a protective Islamic ideology into her students. This seems to make Wadjda that much more rebellious–refusing to shield herself from the male construction workers at the school, speaking loud enough so that “men can hear her,” and charging her classmates to deliver their messages. This is not a girl that wants to hide. While walking together, Abdullah says to Wadjda, “Cover your face, I’ll pretend you’re my sister.” “No one will believe you,” Wadjda retorts, “I’m too good looking to be related to you.” And while her mother is constantly denouncing her desire for a bike, we are left with the notion that the bond between women is strong enough to overcome anything. Though aesthetics of this film are undoubtedly of high quality, Al-Mansour’s insight is apparent in the storyline and is truly commendable.
images via LondonCityNights, LesinRocks