by M. Faust
You’ve probably never seen a film from Saudi Arabia. Despite it being a prosperous country, it is almost unique in that it has no film industry. Which makes sense when you consider that it also has no movie theaters.
There are some filmmakers of Saudi origin, but they work outside the country. Wadjda is the first film shot entirely inside Saudi Arabia, so sight unseen it’s of historical significance. That it is an insightful and sometimes delightful story of a young girl chafing under but refusing to bend to the social restraints she is only beginning to discover makes it a film you’re likely to enjoy. (It also puts it squarely within a tradition of great films from that part of the world about children.)
Named for its 10-year-old protagonist (played with winning naturalism by first-time actress Waad Mohammed), Wadjda has a loose plot hook revolving around her efforts to acquire enough money to buy a green bicycle. She is young enough that the weight of her country’s oppressive treatment of women doesn’t come down too hard on her yet: As a child she only gets rebuked when she is seen in public with her head uncovered. We can see how this is starting to change for her, and we see the daily troubles of adult women around her. (Off screen, those include the filmmaker, Haifaa al-Mansour, who had to direct the numerous street scenes from inside a van because women are not allowed outside unaccompanied.)
Yet for all its explicit and implicit criticisms of Saudi society, Wadjda is never grim. Smart and stubborn, Wadjda has a way to go before she will cave into the pressures facing her. As she improvises her way through each day, we can hope that she will retain this spirit as she enters adulthood, because people like her put light into a future that too often looks like an endless dark tunnel.
Watch the trailer for Wadjda
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