Engage with culture without disengaging your faith.
Genre: Drama (Saudi Arabia/German production)
Rating: PG for thematic elements, brief mild language and smoking
Length: 98 minutes
Starring: Reem Abdulla as Mother, Waad Mohammed as Wadjda
Writer and Director: Haifaa al-Mansour
Wadjda, an 11-year-old Saudi girl living in the capital Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), dreams of owning a green bicycle that she passes in a store every day on her way to school. She wants to race against her friend Abdullah, a boy from the neighbourhood, but riding bikes is frowned upon for girls and Wadjda’s mother refuses to buy one for her daughter. She is distracted by trying to convince her husband not to take a second wife, as Wadjda tries to find the money herself by selling bracelets for classmates, acting as a go-between for a teacher, and through other forbidden activities in the school yard. She signs on for her school’s Koran recitation competition as a way to raise the funds she needs for the bike.
More here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wadjda
and here: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2258858/
This is the first feature length film made by a female Saudi director, and the first feature length film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia. It is Saudi Arabia’s first official submission to the Oscars for the Best Foreign Language Film (2014) category. Because of restrictions placed on women in Saudi Arabia, the female director Haifaa Al-Mansour was not allowed to interact with her mostly male crew and had to direct the street scenes from a nearby van, watching through a monitor and issuing instructions through a walkie talkie.
Questions for discussion
Some general questions might provide enough framework to get started:
- What stood out as the main points/highlights in the movie?
- What themes are explored?
- What assumptions were embedded in the story?
- What challenged you? What questions did it raise for you?
- Are there aspects of the story that resonated with your own experience or with the experience of others in a similar situation?
- Are there general theological themes that come to mind?
A review by Graham Brice that may stimulate further discussion
Defiance! ~ may as well be what Wadja means. How did this movie set in Riyadh manage to get to production in a country without cinemas? – this, the very first full length feature film shot entirely within Saudi Arabia? And how was it shot and directed. Well the Director Haifaa Al-Mansour was the first female director so most of the time she was hidden in a van using walkie-talkies to talk to the actors. This then is the very substance of the movie. A tale of deep feminist intent but mostly quiet, patient resistance – led by a feisty pre-pubescent girl, the product of a family that though conservative, is more liberal than ‘ideal’ under Sharia law.
Most of the time we witness the ordinary, everyday rythms of family and culure where women must be escorted, covered with Birkas, or not seen at all, in the public arena. Yet one girl dreams big and takes on the oppression – and desperately wants a bike (forbidden for girls) so she can chase her boy – friend (not ‘boyfriend’ as these too are forbidden) to school. From such a simple poignant narrative the action is not quite gripping all the way but subtly, consistently, the tension rises and falls like the prayerful chants of the faithful and you never know what’s around the corner [and I’m not about to even hint in that direction].
To anyone new to any depictions of Saudi Arabia (like me) the onion keeps peeling away to a final rather brutal conclusion – but the film has no violence as such and is suitable to those sensitive to it. One can only grow in admiration for any resistance in such a disturbing land where the Koran and patriarchy seem inextricably bound.
Unobtrusive, unpretentious cinematography, clever editing and very sparse but pleasant sound track relying mostly on natural sound, all add up to a low budget but courageous film destined to be a classic in the fledgling Saudi film industry – if it is allowed to develop.
An interesting irony learnt from seeing the film is that the director was one of 12 children so to ‘placate’ the roudy household, her father gave his kids videos to watch – and her love of film making was born in a country where any such industriousness is the province only of males. She didn’t see Wadjda as ‘political’ but then she would have to say that wouldn’t she?!
And this movie might never have happened if the director was not allowed to travel. In fact she studied a Masters of Film Making at the University of Sydney.