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