Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Wadjda: It’s Tough to Be a Girl in the Kingdom
a country where women are forbidden to drive cars and movie theaters are
prohibited, this is obviously a significant two-fer. Not only is it considered the first feature
film produced entirely in Saudi Arabia, it was also directed by a woman. (It should be noted the film was partly
backed one of the prince’s companies, lest you suspect the Zionist conspiracy
was working overtime.) It might not drag
Saudi Arabia into the modern world, but at least Haifaa Al Mansour’s Wadjda (trailer here) is a good film
well worth seeing when it opens this Friday in New York.
year old Wadjda’s attends a hardline Islamist girls’ school that has little to
teach beyond the Koran. Bless her heart,
she is a terrible student, but obviously much more interesting than her docile
classmates. Everyone is rather surprised
when she enrolls in the school’s Koran reciting competition, but she has plans
for the prize money. She is determined
to buy the sparkling new green bicycle that caught her eye.
course, biking is strictly not allowed for girls. After all, those narrow seats might rob them
of their virtue. Seriously, that is the
justification. Nevertheless, Wadjda
convinced her neighborhood friend Abdullah to secretly teach her how to ride
his bike. Thanks to the circumstances of
her family life, she will have plenty of time to spend with him. Her loving mother works on the other side of
town, forced to rely on her surly driver to shuttle her back and forth. In contrast, Wadjda’s father is an infrequent
presence in her life. He lives with his
mother, who seems to be plotting a second marriage for her son. Wadjda’s mother lives in fear of this nuclear
Wadjda is a gentle
coming of age story, but it is bursting with telling moments. Perhaps the greatest eye-opener is the extent
to which women, such as Wadjda’s shrewish head mistress Ms. Hussa, enable and
promote their society’s institutionalized misogyny. Time and again, Wadjda’s mother faces major
dramas over what would be mere day-to-day chores for women in the west, because
of her gender restrictions. It is also
hard to see what use Wadjda’s Islamist education will ever be, but that is obviously
the whole point.
both Wadjda and Abdullah (played by Waad Mohammed and Abdullrahmin Algohani,
respectively) represent the promise of youth.
Given her extensive screen time, Mohammed is particularly impressive,
largely carrying the film with aplomb, but they are both immensely likable,
blessed with natural screen charisma.
Watching their chemistry develop gives viewers hope, but they are only
the film is understandably small in scope, there are considerable stakes
involved for mother and daughter alike.
Monsour tells a timely and compelling story with a sure directorial hand
and a sensitive touch. Indeed, the indomitable Wadjda is a remarkably engaging
character who ought to win over art house audiences. Highly recommended, particularly for those
interested in global women’s rights issues, Wadjda
opens this Friday (9/13) in New York at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema.
Labels: Coming of age films, Saudi Arabian Cinema