|London Film Festival Review: Wadjda|
|Written by Ivan Radford|
|Monday, 15 October 2012 12:45|
Director: Haifaa Al-Mansour
Every now and then, a film comes along that changes the world. Wadjda is the first feature film ever to be shot in Saudi Arabia. And it's directed by a woman.
A short and sweet story, it follows Wadjda, an unruly young girl in a buttoned-down society. She wears purple trainers to school. She doesn't cover her hair. 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 again, Wadjda doesn't care. It's an incredible performance from Waad Mohammed, natural and boisterous without a hint of artificiality. She strolls around with a cheeky grin, raising her eyebrows, Macauley Culkin-style, and making jokes about the rumours of her teacher having affair.
Haifaa al-Mansour deserves endless credit for teasing such a natural performance out of her amazingly talented lead. Filming in a country where cinema is banned and women are forbidden to be in the streets, Haifaa spent half of the external shoot hiding behind vans and giving instructions by walkie-talkie. The result is a basic tale of one child's resolve, delicately shot and gently acted - 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 builds to a hilarious reveal that kicks 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 a clarion call for the whole population.
In a place where females are Photoshopped out of IKEA catalogues, the very fact that this film exists is inspiring. That it's fantastic to boot makes Wadjda a pure joy.