Haifaa al Mansour / Saudi Arabia/Germany / 2012 / 98 mins
The world is a smaller place than ever before. Travel is easier and cheaper, and communicating with the other side of the globe is almost effortless. So why is it so difficult to imagine what the average Saudi Arabian family living room looks like? A practically non-existent film industry leaves the imagination to run riot. As it turns out however, furnished with a sofa, carpet, TV and Xbox, it looks pretty much like any other.
Strong-minded and egalitarian, ten year-old Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is on the cusp of womanhood. Quickly realising the limitations imposed on grown-up Muslim girls, she resents wearing her hijab and is frustrated by her mother’s refusal to buy her a bike (for fear it may ‘damage’ her virginity). Wadjda’s streetwise attitude and pragmatism leaves her determined to get what she wants, so through inventive enterprises she sets out to do just that.
Being one of only twelve feature-length Saudi Arabian films -and the first directed by a woman- it’s unsurprising that Wadjda relies on one or two clichés to express its complex themes. But there’s a simplicity in pitching the eye-rolling, converse-wearing teenager against the despot head teacher, and in using hair-cuts and bicycles to represent freedom and rebellion. Haifaa al-Mansour’s ability to load these (potentially empty) visual metaphors with such rich meaning ensures that the film has cross-cultural clarity while also providing a rare insight into modern Saudi Arabian life. Bittersweet and frequently funny, Mansour mercifully steers clear of proselytising; instead she allows her audience, quite simply, to live another’s life and see how it feels.
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