Originally published on April 26. Wadjda is in theaters today.
What Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) wants to do is simple - ride a bike. That shouldn't be so difficult, but when you live in Saudi Arabia, a place where women can't drive, a girl riding a bike in the street is not allowed
What Haifaa Al-Mansour has done by being the first director to shoot a film in Saudi Arabia - male or female - is give us a movie that is fundamentally radical in a very accessible way. (PS Ms. Al-Mansour being a woman was not allowed to venture out onto the street to direct her cast so she directed from a van.) Wadjda is on the cusp of growing up and as she enters puberty there are lots of rules that start to kick in. Haifaa said at the post film discussion at the US premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival last weekend which included Gloria Steinem and Zainab Salbi (Women for Women International) that she made a film about hope, and she has thoroughly accomplished that task. We see the promise - a boy who helps his friend learn to ride a bike, girls covering for each other, juxtaposed with scenes of women walking in the street covered from head to toe.
What sunk in for me is how the film shows the continued desire of cultures to control women's bodies and lives and the costs of being a woman in places around the world. It is subtle, but oh so clear. The beauty of this film is that is gets across such important messages like how women are discarded if they cannot produce a male heir, and how girls are not counted as family members on a family tree, without any heavy handedness or manipulation.
The film manages to be infused with joy, one cannot be moved by the dedication of Wadjda to get her bike which visits regularly to remind the shop keeper that she has reserved it. The fact that she has no money and no right to ride does not deter her. Yet at the same time, the film is a constant reminder of the give and take of the world this girl is growing up in. At its heart it is a truthful reminder for all of us of how far things still have to go, but in that truth, you will see beautiful performances and a true vision from a wonderfully talented director.
The film will be released in the US later this year.