Wadjda

Movie Review #841: A groundbreaking and uplifting foreign film.

★★★½
By Alexander Diminiano

wadjda

Comedy, Drama
Rated PG (contains mature themes, mild language)
98 minutes

There’s really no point in starting off a movie review with something you can figure out in five seconds without seeing the movie, but I’ll do it anyway. “Wadjda” (2013) is a monumental film. Not only is it the first Saudi movie filmed entirely in Saudi Arabia, it’s the very first film to be directed by a Saudi woman. Without a doubt, the movie is controversial in Saudi Arabia and has made Haifaa Al-Mansour into a controversial director, but that it was released (let alone produced in its entirety) is simply incredible.

Mind you, “Wadjda” was made in a country that forces several absolutely outlandish restrictions upon women. For one, they can’t drive, nor can they vote. And if they are the victim of a rape, it’s more than likely they’ll be given the criminal charges, because this more than likely happened at a time that they left the house without their husband within five feet of them. Yes, that’s a crime in Saudi Arabia: women always have to be seen with their husbands, or else they’re arrested.

This particular issue of discrimination is presented in “Wadjda”. We see the world from the eyes of the titular character, a ten-year-old Saudi girl who would give everything just to have a bike. She can’t stop thinking about the bike, and all the while, her mother is discouraging her. “Girls don’t ride bikes,” she says. When she wins money at a school competition, her teacher asks her what she wishes to do with the money. Wadjda says she wants to buy a bike, which causes great laughter among her peers. Her teacher forces her to donate it to their brethren in Palestine.

“Wadjda” isn’t a family movie, so to speak, but its charm may very well appeal to all ages. The film is wholesome, imaginative, and positive. Debuting young actress Waad Mohammed gives a refreshing performance as Wadjda. She clashes constantly with her mother (Reem Abdullah), who has a habit of snobbishly correcting people. They gradually grow closer, though, eventually coming to understand each other. Though the ending is predictable, their strengthened mother-daughter relationship makes it rather touching. Reaching this conclusion involves moving through a few slow spots, but not one of them is nearly slow enough to hamper “Wadjda” from triumphing as the special film that it is.

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