Wadjda: ground-breaking cinema

Mar 27, 2014

Wadjda is the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, and the first feature-length film made by a female Saudi director (Haifaa al-Mansour).

It is an amazingly ground-breaking film, deserving of the numerous awards it has won at film festivals around the world since its premiere in 2012.

Deceptively simple, the story revolves around 10-year old Wadjda, who falls in love with a green bike and desperately wants to race her friend Abdullah, a boy from the neighbourhood. But bike riding isn’t for girls in Saudi Arabia.

Her mother, played by wonderful Reem Abdullah, is distracted by her husband’s attempts to find himself a second wife who can provide him with a son, so she doesn’t notice Wadjda’s schemes to raise money through selling hand-braided bracelets and mixtapes. When the annual Qur’an recital competition is announced at school, Wadjda sees her chance to win the money she needs to buy the bike.

I adored everything about this film, which is a Saudi-German co-production. The fact that the female director had to spend a lot of her time instructing the mainly male German film crew from afar, as she couldn’t be seen to be telling men what to do, just makes it more amazing.

Waad Mohammed, who plays Wadjda, is brilliant and her friend Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani) is also gorgeous. There is so much gentle humour in the interaction between generations, and the film gives a fascinating insight into a closed society.

It’s a bird’s-eye-view of a culture that doesn’t allow women to drive, where men can take a second wife, where women prepare food and leave it outside the door so they won’t be seen by male visitors. Yet, somehow, the film is gentle in its handling of these topics. It’s about Wadjda. About a girl and her quest to ride a bike. Such a simple premise for a complex film.

I’m already looking forward to seeing it again with my 10-year old son.

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