As the first feature film to be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and one that has been written and directed by a woman (Haifaa al-Mansour) Wadjda would be notable for these things alone. But on top of that, it’s a film which gives real insight into the daily lives of Saudi women, a rarity in itself.
Wadjda (Waad Mohammed, who sparkles in the lead role) is ten and wants a bike. But in a country where women don’t ride bikes, or have trainers, or laugh in public, this is a bit more of a dream than it would be elsewhere in the world. (Let’s just think about that for a minute – woman mustn’t laugh in public. Presumably even if a man falls over, or someone farts in a lift) Wadjda is old enough to understand how restrictive her life is going to be, and young enough to believe she can kick against it. Her mother is the perfect example of what the future holds, trying to hold on to a man who is already lining up wife number two, primarily because of her failure to provide a male heir, and having to miss a day’s work because the man she needs to drive her there is a pig. Wadjda isn’t the only one questioning her heritage.
Al-Mansour has talked about the difficulties of filming (one of them being unable to speak directly to the male actors) and the abuse she received for making it – this woman has balls. A bit like her heroine. Funny, touching and inspiring, as an achievement in film making Wadjda is undoubtedly remarkable. But as a film in its own right – it’s a joy.
[Of course the ending I really wanted was for the boy from Kid on a Bike to turn up and race her.]