Directed by Haifaa
Starring Reem Abdullah, Waad Mohammed, Ahd, Sultan Al Assaf
From 26th July 2013
All credit to this first film directed by a Saudi Arabian woman reflecting
life in a country of stupendous power and wealth for it's rulers, but one where everyone else
has their place and knows it. Director Al-Mansour's courageous approach
is a breath of fresh air and a portrayal of some sort of normality amidst
all the violence afflicting the Middle East.
The action centres around the charismatic and capricious Wadjda (Reem
Mohammed). She is an unusually free spirit at home, school and out in
the public domain, in a society that traditionally portrays female sensibilities
as being respectful to male authority.
Mum (Abdullah) lets a lot go while Dad is away working in the oil industry.
When he comes home at weekends he is received with the familial welcome
anyone who is loved might expect. It is not all plain sailing though.
As a teacher she must travel long distances to work in the company of
an irascible taxi driver, while dressed from head to toe in black. Women
are not allowed to drive cars for themselves.
Wadjda is left to her own devices in a bedroom worthy of any western
teenager - wall posters, record cassettes and an increasing infatuation
with nail varnish. On her walks to school through the dilapidated and
rundown estate she befriends street kid Abdullah, who has a bicycle and
is happy to join-in, despite a warning shot from the 'religious police'.
He agrees to teach her how to ride on the roof of her house.
School is very strict for girls. They learn to play the role expected
of them in later life while still being deemed ready for marriage as very
young teenagers; one girl confirms she has just wed a 20-year-old, but
is not allowed to show her wedding photos to her classmates. Wadjda won't
face this problem yet - just as well, since she is the school live-wire
who can get away with being disrespectful to the head teacher (Ahd) and
a system aiming to clip her wings.
One day she sees a girl's bicycle being delivered to a local store and
determines that it will be hers. There are several problems to overcome;
Saudi society does not agree with girls riding bikes, the cost is prohibitive
and her mum just says no; it will stop her having babies. Undeterred and
ever the entrepreneur she starts making wristbands to sell to her friends
whilst knowing she will never make the asking price, but tells the shopkeeper
to reserve the bike for her anyway.
Hope comes in the unlikely form of a Koran reading competition, the first
prize of which will more than pay for the bike. Wadjda enrols in the 'religious
group', prodigiously learns the text and how to sonorously deliver it,
and after a few lessons from mum against all the odds wins the competition.
When asked what she will do with the prize she informs the bemused audience
that it will buy the bike - without the learners back wheels! The money
goes to the Palestinian cause instead.
Crestfallen she is joined in her sorrow by her mum leaving her dad after
he takes on another wife. There is still hope in the form of a fabulous
red dress ordered from a marble columned shopping mall that could yet
halt the ceremony taking place near by. But no. Resolved now that Wadjda
is the only thing that matters, a light is turned on and the bike, still
in it's wrappers, is there in the hallway.
As mum and daughter determine to go it alone Wadjda hits the road. With
the wind in her headscarf and sniffing the air, at the crossroads she
makes her break for freedom.