Although some might claim Wadjda (pronounced waj-da) has a simple premise, it is a poignant and observational film analysing the social norms and changes for women in Saudi Arabian society. It is also a miracle the film was ever made.
Shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, a country famed for not having any cinemas, the film’s director Haifaa Al-Mansour spent approximately five years seeking financial backing and investment from a foreign co-producer. Haifaa Al-Mansour is also the first female Saudi feature film director, which came with enough challenges itself; she spent much of her time directing the film in the back of a van due to restrictions on men and women socialising in public.
Al-Mansour cites inspiration for the film from her own personal experiences and those of her niece, and this is easily reflected in the film. Ten-year old Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is a spirited and enterprising girl growing up in modern-day Riyadh. She dreams of riding a bicycle and racing her childhood friend Abdullah, and when she passes by a green bicycle in the local toy store one day, is determined to buy it. Unfortunately Wadjda’s mother refuses to buy her one on the grounds that riding a bicycle is something only men can do and she would bring shame upon her virtue. Luckily her mother is too preoccupied with preventing her husband from taking a second wife to notice Wadjda’s various schemes of fundraising for the bike at school, despite her head teacher’s attempts at hindering her progress. As the arguing intensifies between her parents, Wadjda signs up for her school’s Koran recital competition against the odds of her winning for a chance to win the prize money that will help her buy the bicycle.
Normally this blog is dedicated to women in the outdoors and travel, but every once in a while something comes along that represents the spirit of this blog that it needs to be shared. I presents to you, Wadjda.
Whilst the storyline is simple enough, the film simultaneously lends itself as a reflection on the trials that Saudi women face on a daily basis to conduct themselves within societal norms. For the majority of the film, the cast and screen time revolves around the women in Wadjda’s life, whilst the men feature only in minor roles.
Although the film takes an unbiased approach, through Wadjda’s eyes the audience witness the persistent tribulations the women in her life face. Whether it is her classmates’ education cut short by marriage, her mother’s exhaustive attempts to earn a living for her family despite being at the mercy of a husband who is more interested in finding a second wife, or the constant taunts from her childhood companions that she is not allowed to ride a bike, it is apparent that even if the men are not visually portrayed on screen, their presence is still felt.
However Wadjda is also about change, and by the end each woman rebels against the societal norms in her own personal way. This message is reflected in the most pivotal moment of the film, when Wadjda’s mother tells her she can do anything she puts her mind to; she accepts that change will not happen overnight, but it is through small changes, and strong-willed women like Wadjda that these changes will happen.
For more information, see the official website here: http://razor-film.de/en/projects/wadjda/