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Home Reviews Cinema reviews Film Review: Wadjda
Film Review: Wadjda Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Tuesday, 16 July 2013 08:25
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Wadjda, film review
Director: Haifaa Al-Mansour
Cast: Reem Abdullah, Waad Mohammed
Certificate: PG

Every now and then, a film comes along that changes the world. Sometimes, you don't even realise it's doing it.

Wadjda is the first feature film to be shot entirely in Saudi Arabia. It's directed by a woman - the country's first female director. Amazingly, that's not the most remarkable thing about it. A short and sweet story, it follows Wadjda (Mohammed), an unruly young girl in a buttoned-down society. She doesn't cover her hair. She wears purple trainers to school. She plays hopscotch in the street long after her friends have fled the gaze of nearby builders.

"Wadjda! Go inside!" orders her teacher. "Don't you realise there are men who can see you?" The teacher misses the point: she realises. She just doesn't care.

The one thing Wadjda does care about, other than her mum? Getting enough money to buy a bicycle so she can race her best friend down the street. It's a scandalous, unladylike ambition - but she doesn't give two hoots. It's an incredible performance from Waad Mohammed, whose boisterous charm is impossible to resist. She strolls around with a cheeky grin, raising her eyebrows, Macauley Culkin-style, and making jokes about her teacher having an affair.

Haifaa al-Mansour deserves endless credit for teasing such a natural performance out of her talented young lead. Filming in a country where cinema is banned and women are forbidden to go out without a male guardian, Haifaa spent half of the external shoot hiding behind vans and giving instructions by walkie-talkie. The result is a basic tale of one irrepressible child - but that quiet simplicity speaks volumes.

Halfway through, our adorable rebel changes her colours, falling in line and joining the school's religious club - a decision that still manages to kick social conformity firmly in the teeth. "If you set your mind to it," advises Wadjda's devoted mum, "you can achieve anything you want." It's a touching piece of daughterly advice - and brave words for a population.

A film from a country where it (currently) will never be shown, the very fact that Wadjda exists is inspiring. That it's fantastic to boot makes it a pure joy.