Friday, October 18, 2013

Review: Wadjda

Some films are powerful because their simplicity hold a powerful truth within the picture being shown. WADJDA, the first film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia as well as the first in the country to be directed by a woman, is one such film. To be produced in a country where women are expected to stay quiet is quite a feat, and one that would not be as strong if it were made anywhere else.

Wadjda is a young girl (Waad Mohammed) living in Riyadh, struggling with the rules that are set before her. At first she attempts small personal rebellions, such as wearing sneakers under her robe to school, or playing Western music much to her mother's dismay.

Ultimately these build into a desperate search for money in which to buy a bike. Wadjda has been playing with a neighborhood boy named Abdullah, again against her mother's wishes, and her goal becomes to beat him in a bicycle race. This is not allowed for girls, so Wadjda secretly discovers little ways in which to acculamate enough cash to purchase the bike on her own. While this is happening, her mother quietly deals with the pain of knowing her husband is considering bringing a second wife into the family, in the hopes that she may finally bear him a son.

Director Haifaa Al-Mansour's film debut is a surprisingly strong one, as it features a story that should be a crowd pleaser for any young girl watching. Transplanting the concept of "grrl power" into a country where that ideal could get you killed, Al-Mansour manages to keep the film relatively light. Wadjda's idea of memorizing passages from the Quran in order to win a contest's cash prize could just as easily have taken place in an American film's Bible Camp setting.

In the end, Wadjda is an excellent beginning for a developing film industry. Already submitted to the Academy Awards as a consideration for Best Foreign Film at next year's ceremony, Al-Mansour's artistic triumph could end up being a sign of progress for both her industry and her nation.