Imogen Marcus reviews Wadjda, the latest film from Haifaa Al-Mansour.
∗∗∗∗ (4/5 stars)
The stated goal of Saudi-Arabian film-maker Haifaa Al-Mansour, director of new film Wadjda, is to put a human face on Saudi culture, rather than expose it. She has more than succeeded in this aim with Wadjda, a brilliant depiction of one young woman’s life in Saudi-Arabia that leaves you wanting to know more about the country.
It stars Waad Mohammed as the eponymous Wadjda, a 10-year old girl living in a suburb of Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. She is independently-minded, funny, mischievous and outspoken in a society where even voicing an opinion as a woman can be seen as a controversial act. The driver of the plot is that Wadjda wants to buy a bike, but has neither the cash nor the permission in conservative Riyadh, where girls do not ride bikes. ‘You won’t be able to have children if you ride a bike’, her mother tells her.
Unfazed, she enters a Qur’an-reading competition to raise the funds to buy a particular green bike she has set her heart on. Meanwhile, there is trouble at home; although her parents are nominally married, her father does not live with her and her mother, and there are whispers that his family are arranging another marriage for him.