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 screened at The Red Sea International Film Festival, when this piece was originally written. On various VoD platforms on Monday, July 4th.



"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...]
Another year has gone by, and DMovies is [Read More...]
Pigs might fly. And so Brexit might happen. [Read More...]

Read More

Creature

Asif Kapadia
2023

Chris Simpson - 06-02-2023

Choreographer Akram Khan's wild new creation is elegantly captured by one of Britain's most acclaimed documentarists - Asif Kapadia's new film is in cinemas on Friday, February 24th [Read More...]

Monica

Andrea Pallaoro
2023

John McDonald - 01-02-2023

An estranged daughter returns home in order to assist her ailing mother, in this Intimate exploration of trauma - from the From Venice to London Film Festival (taking place between February 3rd to 6th) [Read More...]

She is Love

Jamie Adams
2023

Chris Simpson - 29-01-2023

A divorced couple are reunited entirely by chance in a country hotel in Cornwall, in this improvisational six-day shot film - in cinemas and also Digital on Friday, February 3rd [Read More...]

Facebook Comment

Website Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.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