Wadjda is a film by Saudi Arabia’s first female director, Haifaa Al-Mansour. The plot revolves around a young Saudi girl called Wadjda who is trying to discover herself, questioning her place in society as a result. Wadjda is the first film to have been made by a woman within Saudi Arabia, and as such, proved a challenge for director Al-Mansour. Many of the scenes had to be directed via walkie-talkie in order to conceal the director’s gender. Despite these difficult circumstances, Wadjda is surprisingly well directed and beautifully filmed.
The film opens with a view of an unusual radio set-up; an aerial made of coat hangers strung together to capture the weak signal of a station playing western music, or “evil” songs as Wadjda’s mother calls it. As the young girl ties the purple laces on her Converse shoes, it is already clear that Wadjda is a free-spirited child inclined to challenge the rules of what she sees as a culturally restrictive environment. Willing to speak her mind and constantly inquisitive, she sets out to save money for a bicycle she wants to buy, in order to race her friend and show him that she can beat him. Wadjda is, of course, confronted again by the prohibitions associated with her gender in Saudi Arabia: “girls do not ride bikes”. Initially confused by this logic, Wadjda is nevertheless not deterred and is determined to gather the money herself by any means she can. She even breaks school rules by selling the banned football club bracelets that she had made herself.
Wadjda’s intelligent yet cheeky behaviour gives this film its unique charm and understated humour. The subjugation of women is presented to us through a child’s perspective and, as a result, the inequalities that women face are shocking if also satisfyingly contested by the young girl’s unrelenting and courageous attitude. In one scene, Wadjda and a couple of girls are playing in the school grounds when they notice men working on a roof in the distance and, worried that they might be seen, hurry away. Stubborn Wadjda stays behind, listening to the voices of her friends shouting that “honourable women hide themselves from the view of men.” Wadjda takes one look at the men, then at her game of hopscotch, and continues her playing without another word. This subtle act of rebellion is a powerful statement against the patriarchal culture in which she lives. Throughout the film, Wadjda enacts a revolt against the rules that she comes across; she often uses her intellect to overcome the limitations of the system in which she is circumscribed.
Wadjda is a simple, yet uniquely charming account of a young girl determined to live her life the way she wants and not the way her male-dominant culture dictates. The film is definitely one to be remembered as it allows the audience to truly appreciate how a child’s perspective can accurately and acutely comment on the lives we live and the societal discourses we set up. Wadjda is worth seeing for its simple ingenuity and Al-Mansour’s ability to say a lot with so little.