It is unbelievable that this film exists, but we should be so grateful it does. Despite three impossible obstacles, Wadjda triumphs as a beautiful portrait of determination and a voice of a gender that has been silenced on and off the screen for far too long.
Wadjda is completely shot in Saudi Arabia, a nation without movie theaters or any filmmaking history. This is the first time a narrative film has ever been made on Saudi Arabian land and by a woman filmmaker, no less. First time feature writer and director Haifaa Al-Mansour has incredibly put herself on the line to tell this story and to break boundaries.
Perhaps most significant, Al-Mansour has cloaked her personal struggle as a woman in Saudi Arabia in the titular character, played with grace and charm by newcomer Waad Mohammad. The film centers on a young girl (Mohammad) living with her single mother (Reem Abdullah) in the suburbs of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital city. Although social customs discourage it, Wadjda is determined to collect enough money to buy a bike and finally race with the boys of her class by signing up for her school’s Koran recitation competition.
It’s clear that Wadjda reflects the story of not only Saudi Arabian women but female filmmakers all around the world. Wadjda is constantly told that her pursuits and eccentricities are unacceptable or against the social norm. Her mother is constantly controlled and driven around by men for legal reasons. Wadjda’s assurance is clearly reflective of the ambition of director Haifaa Al-Mansour and other female filmmakers around the world.
With the release of female driven films such as Bridesmaids, The Heat, and most recently, Gravity, women are enjoying incredible success on the big screen; however, all three of those successful films were helmed by male directors. Al-Mansour has made a bold statement in the final show in her film, conveying no matter the obstacle, women are going to pull through.
Despite the barrier of language and foreign customs, Wadjda is bound to collect accolades for its effective storytelling and groundbreaking creation for its universal story of family, triumph, and will power.
Wadjda continues its runs at the Downer Theatre in Milwaukee until November 7th.