Wadjda (15)

Directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour
Starring Reem Abdullah, Waad Mohammed, Ahd, Sultan Al Assaf
FACT, Liverpool
From 26th July 2013

Reviewed by Joe Coventry

Chain Reaction

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.

Printer friendly page

Sorry Comments Closed