First-time director Haifaa al Mansour wrote and directed “Wadjda,” a film about a whip-smart, adorably spunky young girl on the cusp of adolescence. The eponymous Wadjda is also a born entrepreneur, benignly scheming ways to scrap up enough money to buy a bicycle.
See Rick's interview with director Haiffaa Al Mansour HERE.
The fact that the bare bones plot outline can be found in scores of other films adds rather than detracts from the film's richness. On the surface, the story may not sound like much, but context, as they say, is everything.
Wadjda is played by first-time actress Waad Mohammed, who appears in every scene, if not every single frame. Wadjda lives with her mother (played by the famous Saudi actress, Reem Abdullah) and her often-absent father (Sultan Al Assaf). The family lives in a suburb of Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, where virtuous girls are not supposed to ride bikes, listen to American pop music mixtapes or wear black Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers with purple shoe laces.
“Wadjda” will touch the hearts of every woman and girl – and those who have cheered them on – that ever dreamed of escaping from the manacles of gender-role constraints.
While many narrative films have included memorable scenes featuring a bicycle, few come to mind – besides De Sica’s “The Bicycle Thief” (1948) – in which a bike is the central focus around which so much of the movie’s energy emanates.
“Wadjda” opens with a shot of a spiffy turquoise two-wheeler seemingly flying above the traffic on a busy street. It’s a great shot, cleverly composed by Al Monsour from Wadjda’s point view. Cinematographer Lutz Reitemeier’s camera moves through space like a rambunctious 11 year-old. When Wadjda trips chasing her best friend, Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani), we can feel her bruised knee.
Abdullah doesn’t worry about being killed by a terrorist’s bomb because the Koran promises he’ll be greeted up in heaven by 70 brides. Wadjda would prefer 70 bicycles, although right now she would settle for just one, so she can beat Abdullah in a race.
Wadjda’s mother has her hands full, not just with her unconventionally precocious daughter, but a husband whose mother is shopping around for a new wife for her son.
Wadjda’s goals and ingenuity clash with her teachers, apparently inflicting a fatal blow to her plans. When the school’s headmistress, Ms. Hussa (played by the mononymous actress, Ahd, who brings the stern piety of a battle-hardened Catholic nun to the role), offers the class a cash prize for a Koran recitation competition, Wadjda finds an opening.
Haiffa Al Mansour would have had a tough go trying to sell this script to Hollywood producers, who likely would have demanded a bludgeon over her gentle insurrection. Lucky for us, she somehow got the movie made in her native country. A very special film is the result.
See playdates and locations for “Wadjda” HERE.
See more of Rick's reviews at the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).
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