Release Date: September 13th, 2013 (Limited)
Director: Haifaa Al-Mansour
MPAA Rating: PG
Film Pulse Score: 8.5/10
[This is a repost of our review from the 2013 Los Angeles Film Festival. Wadjda opens in select cities this Friday]
All young ten-year old Wadjda wants is a bicycle. Specifically she wants the nice green one she’s had her eye on since she saw it at the local toy store. Problem is she lives in a conservative society where virtuous girls do not ride bicycles and her mother forbids even if it is for something as noble as racing her best friend Abdullah through the streets of Riyadh. Undeterred the rebellious Wadjda sets out to get the money she needs to buy the bike even if she has to play the part that she is expected to be.
Not only is this charming film from Saudi Arabia the first feature to be shot within the Kingdom but the first ever to be directed by a woman, as well. It’s amazing to think this has never happened before. All notoriety aside Al Mansour proves to be a skillful director who has pulled a memorable and charismatic performance from her young leading actor, Waad Mohammed, in her feature film debut. Al Mansour also wrote the screenplay about breaking traditions and the desire to be a kid in a world where certain innocent, well at least in the eyes of non-conservative, western societies, behaviors are frowned upon.
Wadjda’s determination, perseverance and savvy will easily win over viewers. Audiences will appreciate the message of working for what you want as opposed to having things handed to you. Wadjda has business smarts and is not beyond doing some hard work to reach her goal. She even goes so far as to be a model student so she can enter a contest where a significant amount of prize money is involved. Mohammed does a fine job of portraying this young girl who wants to break free from tradition. Like young Quvenzhane Wallis did in Beasts of the Southern Wild, she carries the entire film. She’s smart, sweet, innocent and clearly has a head on her shoulders. Wadjda goes to show you should never underestimate the smarts and ingenuity of a child. Mohammed isn’t the only solid performance in this film. Reem Abdullah is very good as her hard working mother and Ahd is memorable as the school’s soft but stern head mistress Ms. Hussa.
Al Mansour introduces us to a society we seldom ever see especially women and children’s place in this culture. It can be frustrating to see them put in such standing, an opinion some of the women in the film certainly share, but the film is never judgmental about societal norms. As the mere existence of this film can attest those norms are loosening. Wadja introduces us to new talent in front of and behind the camera. Al Mansour makes a solid feature film directorial debut and Mohammed is irresistible in her acting debut. This is an enjoyable feel-good film that is sure to appeal to all audiences.