Wednesday, September 25, 2013


By Moira Sullivan
Wadjda by Haifaa Al-Mansour has the distinction of being the first feature film by a woman from Saudi Arabia and one of the Kingdoms most celebrated filmmakers. The film has won multiple international awards such as Scandinavia and Rotterdam and special awards at the Venice Film Festival. Haifaa Al-Mansour was selected as the president of the Opera Prima jury at the 70th Venice Film Festival in September. The jury chooses the best debut film  for the the Lion of the Future Award.
It is surprising how much liberty Al Mansour takes with her subject about a young girl who is bound by strict devotion to Muslim practice. All the young Wadjda dreams of is owning a green bicycle and to earn the money for it she enters a contest at school in which she has to memorize and recite parts of the Koran in the traditional fashion. This is not an easy task, and to study for it she buys an interactive video game on the Koran with money she earns by selling her own hand made crafts and audiocassettes. This is not enough for the bicycle but if she wins the contest she will have the funds. The school she attends grooms young girls in their education as future wives. There are daily messages about being clean, about being chaste, about covering their heads, about not having men see them, of not reading fashion magazines or painting their nails, and of not riding a bicycle which they are told can prevent pregnancy.  The headmistress of the school is strict and pounds these rules into the heads of the girls, who are taught to tattle on each other since many break the rules. Punishment is severe if girls and women are discovered by the Religious Police roaming the villages and cities.
Wadjda lives with her mother who is the one of the wives of her husband she married when she was young. Wadjda too has a young admirer, Abdullah played by Abdullrahman Al Gohani , who is taking his time to marry her and seems supportive and appreciative of her independence.
Al Mansour ‘s film is technically proficient and shows the small and intricate parts of Wadjda’s daily life, her interaction with her classmates and her headmistress. Without being didactic the film shows the indoctrination of Saudi women as a way of life. Wadjda is played by Waad Mohammed in a debut role. The protest and rebellion this girl must feel is softly contained and her spirit is never broken although Western spectators may have difficulties in understanding this very different way of life. The older women such as her mother played by Reem Abdullah and the head mistress Ms Hussa, played by Saudi short filmmaker Ahd have learned the cultural and religious ways and perhaps because of experiencing the restrictions as young girls seem especially harsh on the girls. They have grown up under a religious patriarchy and perpetuate the traditions. Perhaps as the film seems to show, there is hope for Abdullah and Wadja who are a new generation of Saudis.

© 2013 - Moira Date: 09/25/13
Movie Magazine International

Thursday, September 19, 2013

You Will Be My Son

Niels Arestrup, Nicolas Bridet and Lorànt Deutsch

It has taken two years for You Will Be My Son (Tu seras mon fils, France 2011) by Gilles Legrand to find its way to San Francisco and the film opens on Sept 20 at Landmark Theatre. The film stars Niels Arestrup as Paul de Marseul, the head of a winery in France who wants to leave his estate to Phillipe Amelot the son of his manager Francois (Patrick Chesnais) who is dying of cancer. This does not set well with his own son Martin (Lorànt Deutsch) who wants to take over some day. Nicolas Bridet as Philippe was nominated for an acting award at the French national awards, the César, for his portrayal of a young man with ambition and questionable morals. This film is on the order of a Greek tragedy with a power struggle that contrasts father and son as abuser and abused.

You Are My Son is technically proficient with many intriguing layers including dream states. You grow to hate Paul,  and that is to the credit of the French Danish veteran actor Nils Arestrup. But you also grow to dislike Martin, who fits the role his father has carved for him as a sniveling, self-destructive man, falling into the traps laid by his cruel father. Not everyone is on the level in this film either. Francois is jealous and resentful, and like Paul has control over his son Nicolas. Neither son is free to act alone and even when they do threaten to leave remain in this wine estate, whose owner has received the distinction of the French government for his work. 

Anne Marivan and Lorànt Deutsch
Apart from all these sons and fathers is a standout acting performance by Anne Marivin as Alice, Martin’s wife, who not only loves her father in law’s sniveling son, but stands up to the father and keeps Philippe in place. Anne alone brings sanity to the entire cloak and dagger scenario.

There are reasons however why Paul has turned into a twisted man, but even in his twists we learn that he has never learned how to straighten out the kinks and share his gifts with his employees and family. His bitterness makes you think that wealth is often in the hands of the undeserving, especially those whose trials have forced them to succeed but the success is meaningless since there is no love involved in the pursuit.

The acting performances are commendable and although the character contrasts are stereotypical, the beautiful French wine country is breathtaking. Wine tasting is included for the connoisseur, something I have never understood, since it seems like a waste of energy to detect if there is peach or rose in the yearly wine crop. But this does make sense in the closure of the film that those who have learned how to mix elements always appreciate the right combinations.

© 2013 - Moira Sullivan - Air Date: 09/18/13
Movie Magazine International