Haifaa Al Mansour is a courageous director who took a stance against sexist laws in the Middle East with her brave film about a 10-year-old-girl living in the capital of Saudi Arabia, a country known for having very strict laws against women’s rights.
The film is named after its main character, Wadjda (Waad Mohammed), who is a bright, intelligent, and playful girl with a rebellious spirit. She pushes the boundaries of society, questions the rules, and gets into all sorts of trouble. Her goal is to buy a bicycle and nothing, not even Saudi Arabia’s gender laws, will stop her.
Wadjda is an easy character to connect with. She has everything one would admire in a protagonist, such as a sense of determination and a willingness to defy coercive authority. A well-crafted character, Wadjda is certainly the hero the Islamic feminist movement needs at this time. Mohammed, a relatively unknown figure in the international film industry, does an excellent job with her performance; her eyes show a combination of innocence and a hunger for change.
Unfortunately the film is a bit light in content; we get a pinch of the difficulties facing Arabian women, but we don’t get a harsh in-depth exploration. Wadjda leans more on fantasy than realism, which hurts the political aspect, but I suppose since the story is from a child’s point of view it can’t be too drenched in reality. Wadjda’s world is of kindness and cruelty, though there is some magic in the way she never gives up. The film’s optimistic message is truly inspiring.
Check out more of Michael’s reviews at goodbadcritic.blogspot.ca, and catch a screening of Wadjda at Cinematheque (100 Arthur Street) on Jan. 22 and 24 at 7 p.m. and Jan. 23 at 9 p.m.