Saudi film of­fers hope of change, large and small

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT -

AYOUNG girl sets her mind on get­ting a bi­cy­cle. That is the driv­ing nar­ra­tive en­gine of the movie Wadjda. If that sounds overly sim­plis­tic, be as­sured, it is not. Wadjda, the movie’s plucky 10-yearold hero­ine, lives in Saudi Ara­bia, specif­i­cally in a sub­urb of Riyadh. In that king­dom, re­mem­ber, women aren’t al­lowed to drive cars. And while there are no ap­par­ent laws against distaff bi­cy­cling, the ac­tiv­ity is clearly frowned upon as an suit­able ac­tiv­ity for a young lady. That does not de­ter Wadjda (the ut­terly charm­ing Waad Mo­hammed) de­spite the ad­mo­ni­tions of her beau­ti­ful mother (Saudi TV star Reem Ab­dul­lah) who warns: “You won’t be able to have chil­dren if you ride a bike.” But Wadjda is possessed of an un­seemly com­pet­i­tive streak. Her male friend Ab­dul­lah (Ab­dull­rah­man Al Go­hani) has a bi­cy­cle. How is she ever go­ing to beat him in a race if she doesn’t have a bike of her own? Alas, the cost is pro­hib­i­tive. Wadjda is adept at hus­tling money by sell­ing bracelets and act­ing as a mes­sage­car­ry­ing go-be­tween for il­licit lovers. But to raise se­ri­ous funds, Wadjda and on one level, it is. Fe­male wri­ter­di­rec­tor Haifaa al-Man­sour tells the story in a straight­for­ward, un­af­fected style, let­ting the char­ac­ters re­veal them­selves by their ac­tions, and es­chew­ing any heavy-handed pros­e­ly­tiz­ing. But if the ap­proach is dis­arm­ingly gen­tle, the mes­sage seems down­right rad­i­cal given the realm in which the story takes place. This is re­port­edly the first fea­ture film ever made in Saudi Ara­bia. It is sim­ply stun­ning that it would be a film that so coura­geously ad­dresses the in­equities fac­ing women and girls, en­com­pass­ing driv­ing re­stric­tions (Wadjda’s mother is rou­tinely in­con­ve­nienced by the driver she is obliged to hire) and the every­day op­pres­sions of school life, com­pared to the free­doms af­forded men, in­clud­ing male work­ers shout­ing pervy com­ments at our 10-year-old hero­ine. But it speaks to a hope­ful­ness that change is at hand, re­flected not just in Wadjda’s own small tri­umphs in the con­text of the movie, but in alMan­sour’s abil­ity to get this film made at all.


Waad Mo­hammed is charm­ing as 10-year-old Wadjda.

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