Film Review: Wadjda

WADJDAAn excellent debut by Haifaa Al-Mansour, Wadjda is warm, illuminating and engaging.

Ten-year-old Wadjda lives with her mother in a suburb of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Wadjda is fun-loving and entrepreneurial, and when she sees the bike her friend Abdullah is riding, she wants one for herself. But in her conservative environment, her plan is met with disapproval…

The first feature-length film made by a Saudi female director, Wadjda is an absorbing tale which lifts the curtain on a slice of everyday life in Riyadh.

The story is well crafted by writer and director Al-Mansour. A fairly simple tale of a girl wanting a bike is given character depth thanks to the added layers. There is the cultural context and setting of the film, the added dimension of the family, plus Wadjda’s friendship with Abdullah.

The title character is likeable and is sufficiently well developed to make viewers care about her story. Rebelling from restraints and being herself instead of confirming makes the character more endearing.

The film is illuminating in its depiction of Saudi life; something not often exhibited in film. The film reveals the culture of Saudi Arabia and the restrictions for females in a way that does not preach, deliver an overtly political message, or is explicit in its criticism. Instead, the film allows viewers to draw their own conclusions. The central narrative of a girl wanting to get a bike is always paramount.

Wadjda offers a view of family life which appears both ordinary and removed from certain Western conventions. There are aspects that most will be able to recognise or identify with, and those that are particular to the film’s setting. Given the struggles and cultural confines faced by Wadjda, most viewers will admire her more as the film progresses.

Performances are good throughout, particularly in the lead role given that it is Waad Mohammed’s debut. Wadjda wonderfully told, well paced, and is able to engender an emotional reaction from viewers. Haifaa Al-Mansour is one to watch.