In a town, which seemingly she barely fits into, a young girl finds solace in her ability to persevere.
Review (with Spoilers)
One, or two, years ago this was at the Tribeca Film Festival, I believe, and it was one of the many movies I missed. And what drew me to the project is that you don’t hear about a lot of movies coming out of Central EurAsia that aren’t about turmoil and, from what it seemed, the film was just about a girl’s quest for a bike. Now, mind you, the film does touch on some issues a young girl faces within Saudi Arabia, but these are more presented as obstacles to overcome rather than some type of western perception which would make everything look like it is simply a backwards, oppressive society.
Characters & Story
The movie follows a young girl named Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) who is a bit of a tomboy who isn’t always one to hold her tongue. This personality, naturally, rubs many people the wrong way, especially her principal Ms. Hussa (Ahd Kamel), and even her mother (Reem Abdullah) to a point. But, with Wadjda being the type of girl who pursues what she enjoys first, and perhaps considers what may be considered appropriate in her culture second, she usually finds herself getting reprimanded repeatedly.
Luckily, though, she has a friend in this local boy named Abdullah (Abdullrahman Algohani) who very much likes her. The two play together often, but one thing they can’t do together is ride bikes. Wadjda’s mother worries it may do something to Wadjda’s virginity, so she won’t buy it, and that leads to the meat of the film which is Wadjda’s pursuit to get the money for the bike.
This includes making bracelets; passing notes between lovers, which causes a local scandal; and then getting into a Quran competition. The competition can be seen as a turning point for her for it makes Ms. Hussa think Wadjda is starting to realize the way things are and is starting to assimilate, but with Wadjda winning she finds out that the prize money was really meant for something selfless, leaving us to wonder if Wadjda may ever get her bike?
Like most Americans, I would argue, my knowledge of what goes on in Saudi Arabia is limited to what the news feeds me. With that in mind, I loved this film because though it focuses on a small area in Saudi Arabia, I feel like it doesn’t just use the location but also the culture. Be it the movie speaking on the mother’s issue with being unable to produce a son, leading her husband to getting a second wife; Wadjda’s issues with facing gender norms; this situation where two close girls get ostracized because Ms. Hussa, seemingly, thinks they maybe lesbians; and a slew of other matters, it just feels strangely refreshing to a person like me who feels like there are way too many films solely focused on Judeo-Christian characters’ faith and culture.
And while the story is definitely something which kept me entertained, so was the acting. Though no one is digging deep down and trying to pull out an Oscar-winning performance, the benefit of that is everything feels authentic. Nothing feels over dramatic, or tone down for the sake of trying to present Saudi Arabia as this really tolerant place which the Western World is misinformed on. It recognizes the issues a young girl and a grown woman would have in the country but doesn’t try to really be political. It presents the issues that woman have there to be, as noted above, as more so obstacles than anything else. Not to say that calling them obstacles isn’t likely an understatement for those actually living in Saudi Arabia, but in terms of the film, especially for Wadjda’s story, things never seem absolute when she is told “no” by someone. Presenting a sense of hope, to me anyway.
As for criticism, honestly, I don’t really have any. When I think about all the characters presented in the movie, I feel they are all developed enough to satisfy my pickiness. Also, the movie didn’t feel all that long and though I didn’t laugh or get teary eyed, I did feel very much focused and entertained throughout the film.
Overall: Worth Seeing
Really, the only reason I can even fathom someone not wanting to see this is because you’d have to read subtitles. Other than that, the movie is quite good to me. Wadjda’s story gives a lot of perspective on what a young girl’s life in Saudi Arabia maybe, though “is” may also apply; seeing her mother’s story I felt was a taste of how adult women had to deal with things in Saudi Arabia, and I’d argue her mother’s story could be a movie of itself; as for the characters at Wadjda’s school, while only Ms. Hussa is really given any type of meat to her role, she does represent an enforcement of the status quo, and with her mentioning how she was like Wadjda, you realize there is a multitude of reasons she could have gone to a spunky kid like Wadjda to this stern woman she seems to be. And all together, it really makes for a good way to spend an hour and a half, which is why I think it is worth seeing.