First, let’s start with a little background about “Wadjda.” There are no movie theatres in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In creating this film it made it the first movie to be completed entirely within the borders of Saudi Arabia. The cast was completely from Saudi Arabia, as was most of the crew. But the intriguing fact about the film is it was written and directed by a female Saudi citizen, Haifaa Al-Mansour, in a country where females are not allowed to drive. That this film got made is a miracle in itself but that it’s that country’s first ever entry into the Academy Award Best Foreign Language Film category makes it even more remarkable.
Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is a 10 year old girl living in the capital city of Riyadh. She lives with her mother (Reem Abdulah), who every day has to be driven to her job. Her father (Sultan Al Assaf) is rarely home, though the few interactions with Wadjda seem warm and caring. At first glance it seems that the home life is ideal, but there is tension in the domicile. Her father is being pressured by his mother and other members of his family to take another wife to produce the much desired son, since Wadjda’s mother cannot have any more children.
Wadjda is smart, spunky, loves modern rock music and is very outspoken with both her mother and her teachers. Her best friend is a boy named Abdullah (Abdulrahman Al Gohani) who playfully teases Wadjda, mostly from his bicycle. On her way home one day, she spots a girls bike, almost magically moving through traffic attached to the roof of a truck. She follows the bike to a shop and is told by the shop owner that she will never own the bike, it costs too much for someone of her standing. Her dream is to ride in a race with Abdullah, a race she tells him that she is certain that she would win.
This makes Wadjda determined to get the bike (she seems to thrive on being told no). So she sets out to make the money it will take to purchase her dream. She sells handmade bracelets and does odd jobs for the older girls in school. Wadjda’s world changes when she discovers that there will be a contest in school for the best recitation of the Koran, with the winner getting more than the amount that she needs for the bike. Wadjda then makes it her mission to win the contest.
Writer/director Al-Mansour does an excellent job of immersing us into a different culture slowly, letting the audience get their bearings. Yes, there are some points made at how tough a woman’s life is in her own country. Yet the film never hits you hard with these points, rather subtlety showcases these issues to viewer. Al-Mansour allows the audience to really get to know these characters in an in-depth way; especially with the interactions with Wadjda and her mother, so that we begin to understand their culture and way of life.
Waad Mohammed is truly wonderful as the determined Wadjda. We instantly like her from the moment that she appears on the screen. She is the ultimate underdog in a society that seems to want to place roadblocks in the way of such a girl that basks in independence and individuality. Mohammed has a charisma on screen that just shines through. By the end of the film you have fallen in love with this assertive, intelligent girl.
Wadjda is a smart, touching film that deals with its subject in a warm and enjoyable way. Making it a film that shows the strength and determination of a young girl who dares to dream the impossible and won’t give up till she succeeds. It’s also a film about the love between a mother and her daughter in a culture that doesn’t always celebrate women.
My Rating: Full Price
“Wadjda” is currently playing in Atlanta, Ga at the UA Tara Cinemas 4