Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Written and directed by Haifaa al-Mansour, Wadjda is the story of a young girl living in a suburban city in Saudi Arabia as she seeks to get a bicycle. The film is an exploration into the world of young women trying to find a role in a very conservative world like Saudi Arabia as she is played by Waad Mohammed. Also starring Reem Abdullah and Abdulrahman al-Guhani. Wadjda is a remarkably touching film from Haifaa al-Mansour.

The film is a simple story about a young girl named Wadjda who lives in a small suburban city in Saudi Arabia as she is eager to get a bicycle so she can race with her one of friends. Yet, bicycles aren’t toys for girls in the conservative country as she would take part in a competition to recite the Koran where the prize money would be more than enough to buy the bike. Still, it’s a film that explores this conflict between the conservative and religious ideals of Saudi Arabia and this young girl who just wants to ride a bike, wear Chuck Taylor shoes and listen to American pop music. Even as she gets the ire of her school headmistress Ms. Hussa (Ahd Kamel) and her mother (Reem Abdullah) who is struggling with the growing separation between herself and her father (Sultan Al Assaf) as well as other issues.

Haifaa al-Mansour’s screenplay doesn’t go into many of the issues about the conservative and religious rule of the country by focusing more on Wadjda’s story as she isn’t trying to be a rebel. Instead, she is just a young girl living in a very strict world where she wants to enjoy things despite these circumstances. She makes money making bracelets and mixtapes while being in school where she would see other girls do other things as Wadjda would often get in trouble much to the dismay of her mother. Once Wadjda decides to take part in the competition, she would have to act more conservatively in the school but it becomes a struggle as she realizes that some of her more rebellious classmates are being shunned for their own actions. At the same time, Wadjda watches her mother struggling with loneliness as she is trying to get a new job as she would be forced to ride three hours to work in a very hot van driven by a very annoyed man.

The direction of al-Mansour is quite intoxicating in the way she manages to bring something that is engaging in a story that is simple. Shooting on location in Riyadh, there is a realism to the way al-Mansour shoots everything on location to showcase a world that is very modern at times but also still trying to hold on to a sense of tradition. The approach to shooting on location but in a more traditional sense gives al-Mansour the chance to do something that doesn’t go into any kind of style there are some very simple yet unique compositions in the way close-ups are shot as well as scenes in the school. It would play into this dramatic climax where Wadjda would compete in this recitation of the Koran where al-Mansour would have the audience root for knowing why she wants to win. Yet, there’s an aftermath that doesn’t just play into Wadjda’s struggle but also the one her mother faces in her own marriage and ideals where there are moments of hope despite these circumstances. Overall, al-Mansour crafts a very heartfelt yet mesmerizing film about a young girl from Saudi Arabia and her desire to own a bike.

Cinematographer Lutz Reitemeier does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography as it‘s very simple and understated for the way it shoots many of the locations along with some low-key lighting schemes for some of the interiors. Editor Andreas Wodraschke does terrific work with the editing as it‘s mostly straightforward with bits of styles to play into the drama and some of the light-hearted moments. Production designer Thomas Molt, with set decorator Maram Algohani and art director Tarik Saeed, does fantastic work with the look of home that Wadjda and her mother live in as well as the school where Wadjda goes to.

Costume designer Peter Pohl does nice work with the costumes from the design of the head-scarves the women wear as well as some of the clothing they would wear inside their homes. Sound designer Sebastian Schmidt does superb work with the sound to capture the sound textures of the city including some scenes where Wadjda and her mother watch from afar as an election party is happening next door. The film’s music by Max Richter is brilliant for its mixture of somber orchestral music and traditional Arabian music to play into Wadjda’s determination as the soundtrack also includes a few American pop tracks that Wadjda listens to.

The film’s cast includes some noteworthy small roles from Noof Saad as the Koran teacher, Rafa Al Sanea and Alanoud Sajini as a couple of trouble-making classmates, and Ibrahim Al Mozael as the toyshop owner who is holding the bike for Wadjda. Sultan al Assaf is terrific as Wadjda’s father who only appears sporadically to see her as he often brings trouble to his marriage and what he wants. Ahd Kamel is fantastic as the headmistress who is very wary of Wadjda’s activities and her choice of shoes and such as she wonders why she is entering the competition. Abdulrahman al-Guhani is excellent as the young boy Abdullah who is a friend of Wadjda as he helps her in learning to ride a bike as she would also help him with a few things such as putting lights for an election that his uncle is a part of.

Reem Abdullah is amazing as Wadjda’s mother as a woman dealing with her own issues at work as well as her marriage as she tries to raise Wadjda by herself as she brings a complexity to the role of a mother who tries to instill ideas of tradition but is aware of the changes in her daughter. Finally, there’s Waad Mohammed in an incredible performance as the titular character as this young girl who is determined to ride a bicycle as she would do whatever it takes to get the money to buy one as it’s a role filled with naturalism and energy as it’s really a performance that has to be seen.

Wadjda is a spectacular film from Haifaa al-Mansour that features a supremely exhilarating performance from Waad Mohammed as the titular character. The film isn’t just a unique look into the world of Saudi Arabia from the perspective of a young girl but also an engaging one in how she is determined to get a bicycle. In the end, Wadjda is a magnificent film from Haifaa al-Mansour.

© thevoid99 2014


ruth said...

Oh I've heard tons of great things about this one. The subject matter certainly is intriguing and heart-wrenching, glad the film does it justice.

thevoid99 said...

I just introduced the film to my parents and they loved it. It's a film that I think more people should see as it's one that is very intriguing but also very accessible to a wide audience.