Now playing at the Loft Cinema, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd.
This first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, and also the first feature film made by a female Saudi filmmaker, Wadjda is the story of a young girl living in a suburb of Riyadh determined to raise enough money to buy a bike in a society that sees bicycles as dangerous to a girl’s virtue. In a country where cinemas are banned and women cannot drive or vote, writer/director Haifaa Al-Mansour has broken many barriers with her captivating new film. Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is a 10-year-old girl living in a suburb of Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. Although she lives in a conservative world, Wadjda is fun-loving, entrepreneurial and always pushing the boundaries of what she can get away with. After a fight with her friend—a neighborhood boy she shouldn’t be playing with—Wadjda sees a beautiful green bicycle for sale. She wants the bicycle desperately, but Wadjda’s mother (Reem Abdullah) won’t allow it, fearing repercussions from a society that sees bicycles as dangerous to a girl’s virtue. So Wadjda decides to try and raise the money herself, though her plans are thwarted when she is caught running various schemes at school.
Just as she is losing hope of raising enough money, she hears of a cash prize for a Koran recitation competition at her school. She devotes herself to the memorization and recitation of Koranic verses, and her teachers begin to see Wadjda as a model pious girl. The competition isn‘t going to be easy, especially for a troublemaker like Wadjda, but she refuses to give in. She is determined to continue fighting for her dreams. (Dir. by Haifaa Al-Mansour, 2013, Saudia Arabia, in Arabic with subtitles, 98 mins., Rated PG, Sony Pictures Classics) Digital
Just saw this powerful, authentic movie filmed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia about a young girl attending an all-girls school, who yearns to buy and learn to ride a bike. Her neighbor Abdullah, a male friend who walks with her to/from separate schools can ride a bike, but it’s not allowed for her in their society. Much social contact is also not allowed between men and women, which the movie makes very clear, and women still have to cover their faces in public with their black clothing and shawls. For American women (and men) this movie is a real eye-owner of a male dominated society. Wadjda’s father is allowed to take a 2nd wife, and he contemplates it during the film, esp. because he has no male heir from Wadjda’s mother, a lovely teacher.
The separateness of the male and female genders in that society is made clear to the girl students by the strict female headmistress and teachers at Wadjda’s school. In order to earn enough for a beautiful green bicycle for sale at a nearby business, rebellious Wadjda enters the school competition to recite the Koran and win prize money.
I won’t disclose the ending, but this is a gripping, well-acted movie about gender roles, budding feminism in a patriachial Middle Eastern society, but mostly about freedom. We American women and girls are so lucky in comparison, as we take the simple act of riding a bicycle for granted. Women in Saudi Arabia can’t vote or drive a car, or even walk in public with a man who is not related to them.
“Wadjda” opened at the Loft on Friday October 18, and is playing several times a day. Hopefully it will stay on another week or two.