Women’s History Month offers the opportunity to shine a spotlight on often overlooked contributions to culture. This March, UWE third-year BA Film Studies students are providing a series of weekly film reviews that showcase women’s lives globally. This week, Lydia Cooper reviews ‘Wadjda’, the first female-directed Saudi feature film.
Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) and her Mother (Reem Abdullah) in a shot from Wadjda. Dir. Haifaa al-Mansour, Soda Pictures, 2012.[Description: young girl sat in the middle seat of a car looking out the window. Behind her in the backseat is another woman also looking out the window.]
Haifaa al-Mansour’s 2012 film Wadjda is remarkable not just because of its quality as a film, but also because was made in the first place. Wadjda is the first film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and the first Saudi Arabian film from a female director. On top of all this, it’s a great coming of age story of a girl trying to be herself in an environment that is holding her back.
Wadjda stars Waad Mohammed as Wadjda, a young girl living in Riyadh with her mother, who, after making friends with a boy in her neighbourhood, decides to save up to buy a green bike so she can race him.
Wadjda is discouraged from getting the bike and is continuously told that girls should not ride bikes. Wadjda’s fixation on buying the bike provides an isolated incident to show the issues of women’s freedom in Saudi Arabia; although a bike is quite a simple thing for a child to want, for Wadjda this represents the prospects of hope and freedom in the conservative, patriarchal society she lives in.
Wadjda is a really lovely film with a lot of heart and Waad Mohammed is a large part of this. Despite being a first-time actress, she sparkles on screen, and manages to give a natural performance that is equally funny and emotional. The structure of the film is quite conventional but al-Mansour’s use of location filming and handheld camera creates a sense of realism and makes us feel closer to the women the film centres around.
Wadjda may not be the most innovative film in the world but it is a thoroughly enjoyable and hopeful story about a very complex subject, with a charming performance at the centre.
Further viewing on Kanopy: