Last night I watched Wadjda, Into Film’s suggestion for International Day of the Girl on 11th October. I was apprehensive at first but it was actually a greatly informative film and really emphasised the role of women and girls in Muslim society. Spoilers are included in this review, but it is as much a comment on reality as it is a film.
Firstly I did not realise that this film was in a foreign language. But seeing as it is set in Saudi Arabia this was fitting and the subtitles were easy to follow. It was a slow story but it did not need much background to understand the cultural context: Wadjda is a young girl struggling with growing up in a world where being female makes you a second class citizen.
“Here girls don’t ride bikes. If you ride a bike you can’t have children”
The film focuses on Wadjda’s desire to buy a bike, not particularly because this is of great interest but because it shows the inequality that exists in Muslim countries. As a child, Wadjda has more freedom than her mother but many of her activities remain frowned upon: fraternising with a male friend alone, not wearing her headscarf and, of course, riding a bike. Her life is dictated in part by the wishes of her father, mother and school, and deviation from the norm is highly discouraged.
The seemingly backwards ideals of Arabian life are what predominantly shines through this film. Women are wives, mothers and teachers but outside of these roles they are pushed aside, ignored and unwelcome. They aren’t recognised in a family tree and accept harsh treatment from men. Wadjda’s mother’s acceptance of her husband finding a second wife is particularly poignant – she is utterly defeated but accepts it, a similar response to when she loses her driver and cannot go to work. Marriage is something that is touched upon among Wadjda’s peers as well: one quote from the film is “Salma just got married and brought pictures of her wedding.” The teacher’s main issue with this statement is that pictures are forbidden in school, but for Western society it is the fact that a 12 year old girl is being married off to a 20 year old husband and the girls do not bat an eyelid.
Upon reading more about the film, I was surprised at how many boundaries it breaks. It was the first feature film to be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia and the director, Haifaa al-Mansour, is the first female Saudi director of a feature film. Her experience is descriptive of the segregation of the conservative Islamic kingdom – for some scenes she had to direct from inside a van and use a walkie-talkie to communicate with her team because of not being able to mix with the male crew members in public.
Despite the slow start, I was gripped by the ending of the film. On the surface we see a change in Wadjda as she heads towards the Koran competition that will win her the money to buy her bike, but there is a small twist that shocks both the viewer and Wadjda’s peers within the film. Her mother’s quote “If you set your mind to something no one can stop you” is something that emphasises her mother’s love above all else, and the ending of the film left me hopeful for the fortunes of Saudi women.
Whether you are immersed in Muslim culture or know nothing about it, Wadjda gives a wide overview of the inequality of women through a lovable little girl and is well worth a watch. Four stars.
This article was greatly informative about the film making process and well worth a read: http://www.timeslive.co.za/entertainment/movies/2012/09/03/saudi-s-first-female-director-seeks-to-break-gender-taboos
The next post for my Into Film Project will be Wall-E on Friday (16th October) for World Food Day.