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September 4, 2013

Wadjda (2012)
Director: Haifaa Al-Mansour
Actors: Waad Mohammed, Reem Abdullah, Abdullrahman Al Gohani


Synopsis: Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is a spirited young girl living in Riyadh with her mother. Wadjda’s aspirations are embodied in the desire to purchase a bike, but the restrictions imposed on her by the various players in Saudi society make that dream a taboo.

Review: Wadjda is a necessary contextualiser to the West’s one-dimensional view of life in Saudi Arabia. For sure, it’s still eventually a damning indictment of that country’s gross patriarchal repression (not to be confused with a critique of Islam – which this film isn’t), but the work portrays rounded, recognisable characters who have the same personal and professional concerns as those from any other society might.

Take the atypical location aside for one moment, and Wadjda is actually an exemplar of classical storytelling, as the narrative moves expertly to its deftly poignant final gesture of the mother presenting Wadjda with her longed-for bicycle, while her husband (Wadjda’s father) is marrying another wife in a ceremony across the street. It’s this image of mother and daughter in embrace that puts the final stamp on the film’s staggeringly assured essay on female self-determination, as both characters have successfully braved the pitfalls of work, school, and rejection by the husband/father, for their moment of minor epiphany.

Wadjda also offers undoubted interest for those curious about the geographical and sociological make-up of Saudi Arabia. The country, even in its densest city Riyadh, resembles little more than an arid dust-bowl – with not a lick of green in sight – and that stark landscape combined with the omnipresent black hijabs and burkas, makes a compelling palette for the bold narrative of Wadjda to play out on. (September 2013)

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