DMovies - Your platform for thought-provoking cinema
Director - Haifaa al-Mansoor - 2012

"Dirty gem"
A young girl tests the limits of her freedom in the first ever film shot in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia - live from the Red Sea Film Festival


Almost ten years ago, a young woman made a film. Nothing so strange there. Except that Wadjda was the first movie to be shot in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Haifaa al-Mansoor was forced to direct her actors hidden in a van by walkie-talkie or risk the ire of conservative passers by who couldn’t see a woman giving orders to a man.

It’s very existence is already a historic triumph, but watching the film almost a decade later at the Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah several things are apparent. One is that al-Mansoor is no longer hidden away. She is receiving a prize, giving talks and introducing the film herself. The other is that there is a new cinema that is beginning to expand in the Gulf state. We are a long way from perfect, but the progress being made as cinemas are built and the festival’s inaugural edition continues has to be celebrated.

But what about the film itself? Wadjda tells the story of a young girl (Waad Mohammed) who lives with her mother, attends school and longs for a bicycle so that she can beat her male frenemy Abdullah (Abdullah al-Gohani). She is cheeky, wearing her sneakers under her abaya, and getting into trouble at school. However, in order to get the bicycle she decides on reformation, joining in Koran class in order to win money in a competition for reciting part of the holy book.

Meanwhile at home her mother is struggling with the fact that Wadjda’s father, urged on by a family keen for a male child, is in the process of taking another wife. The home is a place where Wadjda can live with a modicum of freedom, but almost every other aspect of her life is dominated by the restrictions placed on women and girls. This is also internalized, with her mother being appalled at her friend working in a hospital where she has to work with men.

Wadjda is a superb film. The performances of the children are wonderful and the weight of the situation weighs heavily on their futures. The Children know nothing else, and don’t even fully understand the rules of their own society. Wadjda is drawn to a pair of older girls who are trying to rebel in small ways, painting their nails etc. But her own mother’s fate and even her own matrimonial future, ironically underlined by her t-shirt which reads ‘I’m a great catch!’, seems bleak.

But al-Mansoor ultimately is an optimist. She sees the humour and the humanity in people. She sees a richness and complexity to the situation, and glories in Wadjda’s unbroken spirit. The last nine years seem to have cautiously endorsed that optimism. And young Wadjdas going to school now are free to ride their bicycles and in the future hopefully everything else.

Wadjda was screened at The Red Sea International Film Festival which is running from December 6th to 15th in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

"Dirty gem"

By John Bleasdale - 09-12-2021

By John Bleasdale - 09-12-2021

John Bleasdale is a film critic and writer based in Italy. He has published a novel entitled Blood is on the Grass and a book of short stories as well as a number of articles and features. His work ha...

DMovies Poll

Are the Oscars dirty enough for DMovies?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Most Read

Forget Friday the 13th, Paranormal Activity and the [Read More...]
Just a few years back, finding a film [Read More...]
A lot of British people would rather forget [Read More...]
A small family of four lives in a [Read More...]
Pigs might fly. And so Brexit might happen. [Read More...]
Holidaying in Cambodia with Isaac (Ross McCall), Ben [Read More...]

Read More

A Human Position

Anders Emblem

John Bleasdale - 18-01-2022

Anders Emblem’s second film is an intimate portrait of a young woman recovering from a mysterious trauma, featuring a superb performance from Amalie Ibsen Jensen - live from the Tromsø International Film Festival [Read More...]

When darkness reigns both indoors and outdoors


- 17-01-2022

The Tromsø Film Festival opens in the Arctic Circle with a choice selection of the best films from the festival circuit; DMovies reports from the north of Norway [Read More...]

The five dirtiest poker movies ever!


Marina Hillquist - 10-01-2022

Our reader Mariana Hillquist chooses her favourite poker movies ever, the ones that genuinely keep her hooked to the silver screen! [Read More...]

Facebook Comment

Website Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *