Saw the break through Saudi-German film, Wadjda, last night. Had read much about it, and the trials of the first Saudi female director, Haifaa al-Mansour, during the making of it. From trying to find the financial backing, to getting filming permission in Saudi Arabia for the authentic locales, to having to work from the back of a van and communicate via walkie talkie with her cast and crew, so as to not be seen to publicly mingle with men in the hugely orthodox Saudi milieu, the movie is a testament to perseverance and talent.
Wadjda is a simple story of a young girls yearning for a bicycle. She is a resourceful, bright and competitive child, who refuses to be slotted by her gender or her financial incapacity. Wadjda makes mixed tapes and woven bracelets to supplement her pocket money. She acts as an intermediary for young lovers. She bargains with the shop keeper with an ease beyond her years. She is a girl, who is yet to have the fire in her extinguished.
Interspersed with the main theme are various sub themes that highlight the position of women in Saudi Arabia. There is Wadjda’s beautiful but insecure mother, whose worst nightmare of her husband taking on another wife, does come to pass. Simply because she is unable to give him a male heir. Then there is the uber strict headmistress at Wadjda’s school, whose own rebellious past has been stamped out forcefully, making her a staunch proponent of female subjugation. There are references to the religious police, to the inability of women to be seen in public in the company of men other than family members, the slow but subtle change that a few rebellious women and girls are trying to engender, through not toeing the line.
Strangely, none of it is strident or in your face. There is a warmth, a simple elegiac richness that make one identify and empathise with this diverse assortment of characters. One can’t help but champion Wadjda through her fruitless attempt to win the money for her precious bike at a Qu’ran recital or feel a certain pity for her mother’s equally fruitless attempt to hold on to a husband who is slipping away.
Ultimately, Wadjda is a gentle, uplifting and rare glimpse into a world that co exists with ours, and yet, is so very foreign. I urge as many of my readers as possible to watch this beautiful gem of a film. It is one that will stay with you for many years to come.