“Here, i made you a mix tape, because we are friends now. But don’t sell my bike to anyone”
Wadjda is a film with a lot of significant firsts. It is a first feature film to be shot in Saudi Arabia, a country without cinema yet thrives through satellite television and DVDs. (Shockingly did not made into the shortlist of Best Foreign Film nominee of the upcoming Academy Awards). It is also the first film directed by a woman, Haifaa Al-Mansour.
10 years old Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is different than her peers. She wore Converse sneakers instead of black flats. She listens to Grouplove’s Tongue Tied on her rigged radio, and she want to ride a bike. In most countries these things are not a significant matter. But in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where Wadjda live with her single mother and go to her conservative school, these are defying the customs and beliefs. Wadjda sells handmade bracelet to her friends and selling mix tapes, among her various forbidden attempts, to earn the 817 riyals she needed for the bike. That is before her principal know this effort and put her under stern observation. When a Quran recital competition in her school offer a 1,000 riyals prize, Wadjda joined the competition in the hopes of getting the prize money to buy the bike that she dreamed off.
A deceptively simple issue that address the complexity and severity of gender issues in the absolute, deeply rooted culture in Saudi Arabia. Something as simple as wanting a bike is unheard of for a young girl, her parents wouldn’t hear for it, her teacher thinks she’s being a brat, and it’s more than just frown upon in general by society. In a country where women are hidden behind their abayah and veils, their movement are limited as well (they are not allowed to drive). Mobility is synonymous to freedom there, and women usually rely to hired drivers (as featured in the film). But it was only one of the many example of the constrains women must endure. Another could be seen from Wadjda’s mother (Reem Abdullah) whose effort to hold on to her marriages must be reduced to acceptance of what expected and decided for her (no matter how reluctant she seems).
The young lead Waad Mohammed is a phenomenal as the eponymous titular character. Carefree and courageous, Wadjda defy the conforming norm and cultural constraints. Her act of rebelliousness against gender conformity is a form of charming innocence that is heartfelt to watch. From her passion to ride a bike to befriending a friendly boy Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani), who adorably proposes to marry her in a form of childhood crush. Wadjda adresses the gender issue with a light-heartedness, but packing a powerful punch nevertheless. al-Mansour carefully balanced screenplay manage to deliver this powerful message into this form of family drama, against the heavy cultural background and addressing an issue of gender politics. A fascinating feat that is not easy to accomplished.
I enjoyed Wadjda a lot. Not only because of the performances and the well put-together productions. I think the religious and cultural background is something i can relate to. But funnily enough, what Wadjda offer should be more generally acknowledge albeit its strong cultural significance. What a courageous film indeed.
GENRE Drama, Coming of Age
DIRECTOR Haifaa al-Mansour | PRODUCER Gerhand Meixner, Roman Paul | WRITER Haifa al-Mansour | MUSIC Max Richter | CINEMATOGRAPHER Lutz Reitemeier | EDITOR Andreas Wodraschke | STUDIO Razor Film Produktion, Norddeutscher Rundfunk, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Rotana TV, Highlook Communications Group | DISTRIBUTOR Koch Media | COUNTRY Saudi Arabia, Germany | RUNNING TIME 98 minutes | BUDGET $12 Million | RATING PG for thematic elements, brief mild language, and smoking | RELEASE August 31, 2012
STARRING Waad Mohammed, Reem Abdullah, Abdulrahman al-Guhani, Ahd Kamel
DID YOU KNOW? The director, al-Mansour, have to stay inside a van and communicate to his male (predominantly German) crew through a walkie-talkie because she could not publicly mix with the male crew.