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19th July 2013

Haifaa Al-Mansour

Waad Mohammed

98 Minutes



16th July 2013

UK Release







One of my favourite films of recent times has finally landed a UK release date and in time honoured Broken Shark fashion, we shall dust off our quickie London Film Festival review, give it a wash and brush up and present it here.

I’m not sure now what made me pick Wadjda out of the LFF guide. After all, I was spoiled for choice and with only my poor, battered credit card rather than any press credentials and only a couple of days off work, I had to select carefully. So after picking every film I read, many were culled. This was not one and I was very happy that it made the cut.

Wadjda tells the story of one girl’s small rebellion against a conservative culture and her mission to buy a bicycle. You see, Wadjda lives in Riyadh and riding a bicycle is something ‘girls just don’t ride’. Something amongst many things that girls just don’t do. Including of course, directing films. So it’s an impressive feat even before the opening credits that Haifaa Al-Mansour ever managed to get the film made, let alone screened, let alone released. Saudi Arabia made cinemas illegal in the 1970’s and this is the first film ever to be entirely shot on location in Riyadh. Remarkable though it is that Wadjda was even made, to concentrate on that too much would do the actual film a disservice. This is no novelty movie, made to prove that women can do stuff even in the Middle East.

What it is, is a beautifully shot and lovingly crafted tale of a very small part of the Kingdom’s society. Waad Mohammed is perfect as the tom-boyish Wadjda. Mature beyond her years in her acting, she is perfectly cast as the independent, wilful schoolgirl. Wadjda is adept at manipulating and where necessary bullying her elders. You can almost literally see her mind working when she realises that her school will reward her with cash if she can win a Koran reciting competition and she doesn’t shy away from using her fledging political connections when bullying her mother’s useless driver into going back to work so that she doesn’t lose her job. But she’s also still very much the innocent. Her attempts to have her name recognised on her sporadically present father’s family tree are endearing as is her relationship with both her parents - neither of which conform to the stereotypes that might have been inflicted had a Westerner put this movie together.

The film doesn't seek to preach, lecture or hammer home any political agenda. It deals with the challenges faced by women in the male dominated Kingdom. This is not a Western view of a culture it seeks to judge, it's a film by a local woman about local issues. Wadjda's fight is not with the ruling classes, it is with her headmistress, her mother's driver or anyone else who gets in the way of her and her bike.

Al-Mansour has a great eye for framing interesting shots - see the truck with the bike on the back – the bike ‘riding’ along above a wall from Wadjda’s viewpoint, and the closing shots of her on the bike. And if the story is slightly too amiable for its own good, it gets away with it with sheer charm and a real sense of honesty.

Wadjda avoids any clichés and does not pander to any Western ideas about Saudi life. It is honest, wilful and optimistic, just like it's main character. It is nothing short of a triumph that this film managed to get made in the first place, but it deserves to be seen on its own merits. Nothing has made me happier in the last few weeks than seeing it advertised all over London and on the back of Sight & Sound (who actually give it a pretty decent review). Go and see this film, after all, how many times do you get to boast that you’ve seen every movie a country has every released? Okay, if you’ve seen The Cup (also utterly brilliant) then this will be twice but then you’ll be twice as happy.

Check out the Wadjda trailer here.

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