The first film ever to be entirely shot in Saudi Arabia, director Haifaa Al Mansour’s achievement is made all the more impressive by the fact that she is a Saudi woman.
In a country where women still have to remain covered in the presence of men; she had to direct many of the street scenes from her production van via walkie-talkie.
The film tells the story of a 12 year-old girl in the capital city of Riyadh: she lives with her mother and (largely absent) father in what looks like a fairly comfortable middle-class home. She’s sharp, rebellious and incredibly enterprising (she sells friendship bracelets that she makes at home and haggles with a classmate who asks Wadjda to deliver a letter to her boyfriend). We follow her quest to buy a new bike, something that sees her entering a Qur’an competition just so she can win the cash prize.
we see her at home and at school, where she’s witness to the kind of limitations placed on women in Saudi culture: because she isn’t permitted to drive, Wadjda’s mother relies on drivers to take her to work; when Wadjda’s school headmistress spot some men working on a distant roof, all the girls on their lunch break are forced to move inside. Although we get the impression that her father might be a nice guy, there’s an under-riding suggestion he might be forced to remarry because his wife cannot bear him a son.
Truly, women get a pretty terrible ride in Saudi Arabia but Al-Mansour’s film is never despairing or depressing. For all the knock-backs that Wadjda and her mother face, this is a warm and funny film that doesn’t pity its characters. It’s both enormously entertaining and hugely important, giving us an insight into a modern culture that we rarely see on-screen. This is truly an excellent family film that deserves to be seen when it’s released here in the UK. Seek it out, film fans!