Starring: Waad Mohammed, Reem Abdullah, Ahd
Director: Haifaa Al-Mansour
Running Time: 98 mins
Wadjda is a Saudi Arabian film about a young girl who signs up for her school’s Quran recitation competition, in order to win the money she needs to buy a green bicycle she’s been yearning after.
I really liked this film. With a beautifully simple concept at the centre of its story, around which the film is able to give a fascinating and often moving portrayal of day-to-day life in Saudi Arabia, and particularly that of ordinary women, Wadjda is a thoroughly engrossing watch that’s complete with a wonderfully likable main character who performs with glee and determination from beginnning to end.
First off, let’s talk about that main character, because she’s arguably the main reason that this film works so well. More often than not, when the central message of a film is a portrayal of ordinary society, the unique charisma of a character can be lost under the spectre of social commentary, rendering a film difficult to relate to, and often rather pretentious.
That’s by no means the case here, and with a wonderful performance from Waad Mohammed throughout, Wadjda is a character that I absolutely adored from the very beginning of this film, with her innocence, humour and joyful nature lighting up the screen, while her brilliant drive and determination makes her a real rebel against all of the conventions she comes up against throughout.
Of course, from those main characteristics, there’s a lot of social commentary that director Haifaa Al-Mansour is able to provide, but what’s also great about this film is that it doesn’t forget to tell a simple and engaging story within its wider message, something that means Wadjda can be enjoyed as an easier-going watch, and a film that even children could watch and enjoy.
That story I’m talking about is wonderfully basic: Wadjda wants to save up for a bike so that she can beat her friend in a race down the street. From that premise, the beautiful innocence of her character is clear from the beginning, and that sweeter quality permeates into the story as a whole, taking a little bit of the edge of some of the heavier-going, more dramatic aspects fo the film with a really wonderful and thoroughly enjoyable story that follows Wadjda and her naturally enterprising mindset putting out all the stops to raise as much money as possible for the bicycle she desires so much.
With that said, I of course can’t overlook the fact that this film does also feature a lot more depth and drama than that simple story. Above all, it’s a movie used as a tool to demonstrate everyday life in Saudi Arabia, with the whole story playing out in a quiet quarter of Riyadh.
For one, given that Saudi Arabia isn’t a country that puts out many films to the rest of the world, this is a fascinating and rather unique insight into a lifestyle that’s a lot more different to many people’s than they may expect. Also, though, it does a fantastic job at setting about criticism of some of the society’s more archaic perceptions and practices, particularly with regards to the treatment of women as second-class citizens.
It’s not a loud, preachy piece, but the message is clear in every scene of Wadjda, and that’s the most powerful and poignant way to bring across such a fascinating and moving message, something that kept me thoroughly engrossed from beginning to end, which is why I’m giving the film a 7.9 overall.