WADJDA: THE REVIEW

This is a MUST SEE FILM – a film that I have been so desperate to see for a long time. I will let Salty Kernel, Andrew Brusentsev, fill you in as to why. It releases March 20th in all decent art house cinemas, it runs for 97mins and is rated PG. I had originally predicted this for “best foreign language Oscar next year right here” but sadly have been informed by a few people it was submitted for this year’s awards but alas, like so many superb foreign films over the years, it missed out. I would greatly prefer it if there was no such things as a “best foreign language film” award and that the Oscars were universal instead of them being American awards. Enjoy Kernel Andrew’s review……JK

 

Reem Abdullah, Waad Mohammed, Abdullrahman Al Gohani, Ahd, Sultan Al Assaf, Haifaa Al-Mansour, Wadjda Review, Wadjda, Foreign Language film,
WADJDA – THE SALTY POPCORN REVIEW

 

WADJDA REVIEW BY KERNEL ANDREW

Many people (I am most guilty of it) throw around the terms such as “this movie is important”, “it is a landmark” or “has to be seen” but dear reader this is such a movie.

Not only is this the first feature for a brave new voice in cinema, Haifaa Al Mansour. But it is also the first movie EVER to be directed by a woman in her homeland of Saudi Arabia. So lumped with that expectation you walk in to view this movie and you are struck with how it shares many an element, a cinema DNA if you will from other classic coming of age tales. Then it strikes you. This is a world, a place and a time that has never ever been filmed before. Not just through a man’s eyes let alone a woman’s eyes.

From the outset you are immediately captivated by Wadjda (Waad Mohammed). She is a young, smart, funny and good natured young protagonist. Her eyes are the camera and also our gateway into modern Saudi society. For Wadjda her life is quite simple, all she really wants in her life is to ride a bike and to express herself freely (she wears a pair of converse with bright coloured laces underneath her hijab). She spots a bike quite early in the piece in a local toy store. No big deal you would say. But a girl riding a bike in Saudi Arabia is a great moral transgression. People will think you are a moral loss, not a virgin as is said to her by her mother (herself bucking against tradition). Al Mansour uses the analogy of the bike to talk about many issues which she sees in her contemporary society. In essence Wadjda is a young girl who is restricted. She is chafing-at-the-bit for more out of life (as most kids are). As we journey along with her we see others around her rebelling in small ways against the religious and social strictures of “The Kingdom”. A place that for women is full of sexual anxiety, misogyny and severe repression.

 

Reem Abdullah, Waad Mohammed, Abdullrahman Al Gohani, Ahd, Sultan Al Assaf, Haifaa Al-Mansour, Wadjda Review, Wadjda, Foreign Language film,
WADJDA – THE SALTY POPCORN REVIEW

 

The story is compelling on its own. But it is made all the more compelling by some amazing visuals. They capture glimpses of every day modern Saudi life. The cinematography of Lutz Reitemeier coupled with Andreas Wodraschke’s work as director of photography is a real stand out. There are some beautiful moments where we see the beauty underlying not only the culture of this land but the beautiful sides of tradition and religious life. At the same time this is juxtaposed with images of monotony, cruelty and hypocrisy.

The tale though is all Wadjda’s. She is a girl who refuses to wear her head covering on the way to school. As I said before, her dream is to buy a bicycle so that she can race (and beat) her best friend, a boy named Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani). Wadjda lives with her mother (Reem Abdullah) and a father (Sultan Al Assaf) who is absent from the house most of the time. The tension in the household is palpable as Wadjda’s mother has been rendered incapable of having any more children after the birth of her only daughter. This in Saudi society opens up the need for Wadjda’s father to contemplate taking a second wife. Wadjda’s life inside her home is free enough but step outside her door and she is regularly receives negative messages that bombard her about her own worth and potential wherever she goes.

 

Reem Abdullah, Waad Mohammed, Abdullrahman Al Gohani, Ahd, Sultan Al Assaf, Haifaa Al-Mansour, Wadjda Review, Wadjda, Foreign Language film,
WADJDA – THE SALTY POPCORN REVIEW

 

But Al Mansour (who also wrote the screenplay) does not spend too much time being heavy handed. Indeed she sees many positives in her society. She keeps the movie simple allowing the image and the viewer to make their own decisions about each situation. She allows the film to radiate with the optimism and determination of her lead character. A young actress who plays the role with quiet focus and steady-eyed integrity.

There is no doubting the central message of this movie though. It seems the whole society is predicated on the simple fact that women are to be kept immobile and dependant on their male counterparts and family. The movie is not dark nor does it wallow in hopelessness. In fact there are rays of sunshine all the way through. Al Mansour I believe is suggesting that although her homeland may change at the speed of a glacier, change it will. There are more than one or two Wadjda’s out there and young men like Abdullah. Change is not just possible but eventually it will be inevitable.

 

4 and a Half Pops