Movie review: Saudi film ‘Wadjda’ is a tale of individualism

MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINELNovember 8, 2013 

  • WADJDA

    •••

    Rated: PG for thematic elements, brief mild language and smoking. Starring: Waad Mohammed, Reem Abdullah, Abdullrahman Al Gohani. Director: Haifaa Al-Mansour. Language: Arabic with English subtitles. Running time: 98 minutes. Theater: Flicks.

Films from other countries are not about robots or superheroes, in part because many countries lack the financial and technical infrastructure to make them. While Hollywood wastes (our) time and (its) money, films from abroad are often personal stories fraught with political subtext.

And so it is with “Wadjda,” about a little girl who wants a bicycle in the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive. Even more remarkable than the fact that “Wadjda” is the first feature film shot completely in Saudi Arabia is that director Haifaa Al Mansour is a woman and had to work out of sight from inside a van while making it.

The mere existence of the film, made with approval of the ministry of culture and Saudi Arabia’s official Oscar submission for best foreign-language film, challenges the patriarchy in the same way its irresistibly precocious pretween title character defies convention.

The result is a populist exercise in the neo-realist tradition of “The Bicycle Thief” and “The White Balloon.”

Wadjda wears her spunkiness not on the sleeve of the black abaya she must wear in public but in the scuffed Chuck Taylors with purple shoelaces she wears under it.

Given a fairly long leash by a stressed working mother who is distracted by her straying husband, Wadjda makes pop music cassette mixed tapes and befriends a teasing bike-riding boy.

Their innocent mutual friendship is contrasted with an adult world that preaches female subservience.

She is not so much consciously rebelling against authority as expressing individuality like a Saudi Lisa Simpson, in a country where doing so is discouraged or prohibited.

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