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Film Review – Wadjda

2 min read

Wadjda was written and directed by Haifaa Al Mansour who is, believe it or not, the first female director in Saudi Arabia. It tells the story of a little girl (Wadjda), who uses some very enterprising ideas, including entering a Koran reciting competition at school, in order to raise money to buy a bicycle she has been wanting. It may sound plain enough, but what seems like a relatively simple endeavour to Western society is much more complicated when you consider the deeeply rooted social and religious rules that affect women in Saudi Arabia.

What I really liked about this film is that on the surface it appears to be a very simple story, but it doesn’t take long to realize that it is a much deeper examination of women’s social issues. Al Mansour (who also wrote the screenplay), expertly weaves a much more complex social commentary around the fairly simple story of a little girl and her mother, without hitting you over the head with it.  Through some of the more mundane interactions in the daily lives of the two, as well as more defined relationships, such as with Wadjda’s father, a picture emerges of the rigid social boundaries that define the norms and restricts the behaviour of Saudi women, even by some women themselves. Society doesn’t tell Wadjda she can’t have a bicycle, it tells her she shouldn’t want a bicycle, and that is an example of the kind of subtle distinction that Al Mansour handles very well without being too heavy handed.


Wadjda also gives unfamiliar audiences a glimpse into some places we may not have seen before but always wondered about, such as inside the homes of conservative Arab households, which appear surprisingly normal. By watching Wadjda practice for her competition, we also learn about some basic Arab traditions, like chanting the Koran. Though subtitled in English, it is easy to distinguish that which is done well, and I was able to appreciate Wadjda’s level of transformation in order to prepare for the competition.  I give full credit to Waad Mohammed, the young unknown actress who plays Wadjda, who is outstanding, as well as Rheem Abdullah who plays her mother.

Overall, I really enjoyed Wadjda. I guess you could call it a “women’s film”, but it is a very fascinating look inside a strange world with very different social norms and customs. It is amazing that such a film was even made, given the challenges Al Mansour must face in her profession. But, she has created a simple story and a brave, cheeky little girl as the backdrop to illustrate some very complicated social issues.

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