Can you imagine not being allowed to ride a push bike?
Haifaa Al-Mansour's first full-length feature film, shot in a country where there are no cinemas, is skilfully directed - especially considering that as a female director, she had to shelter in a car while directing so she would not be seen to be instructing men.
The story surrounds Wadjda (Waad Mohammed), a ten-year-old girl who lives in a suburb of the capital of Saudi Arabia. Wadjda decides she wants to ride pushbikes like the boys do, but good girls do not ride bikes, as it endangers their virtue and suitability for marriage. Wadjda is something of an entrepreneurial renegade – she sells contraband bracelets at school and is friends with a boy, so suitability for marriage isn’t a priority.
SWITCH: 'WADJDA' TRAILER
The performances from the two young stars are excellent, as is that of Reem Abdullah as Wadjda’s mother. Reem Abdullah is a well-known TV actress in Saudi Arabia for her work challenging the strict ideologies of the society. The cast is entirely Saudi, and there were particular challenges to cast the part of Wadjda. Waad Mohammed brings her own spirit and attitude to the main character, lacing conviction and determination into every line of dialogue.
The culture of Saudi Arabia is artfully personified in the character of Wadjda’s school headmistress, Ms Hussa, who is introduced to the audience when scolding two girls for laughing in public. Ms Hussa (and at times Wadjda’s mother) reminds us of the realities of the lives of women in Saudi Arabia, while Wadjda herself struggles against that reality. A teacher’s congratulations to a 10-year-old student on her marriage to a 20-year-old man is confronting, particularly in the child’s acceptance of it. However, the men aren’t portrayed as villains; rather, just like the women, forced to manoeuvre through a system that constrains their behaviour. The core of the story is very relatable – that consequence of wanting something different to the cultural norm is to be labelled as deviant or outcast.
The performances from the two young stars are excellent.
This enjoyable and excellently made film ends with a sense of hope, and the feeling that Wadjda’s story is just beginning. ‘Wadja’ gives us a glimpse into the everyday realities of another culture, far removed from what we experience in Australia. It is a film about women; about the continuing oppression women still suffer in some parts of the world, and one girl’s determination to follow her dreams. ‘Wadjda’ gets its message across very effectively, without smothering you with it. The strength of this film isn’t that it espouses a political message, but that it tells its story in a charming and heartfelt way.