“You won’t be able to have children if you ride a bike.”
There are few regions that, even in this age of mass globalisation and homogenisation of trends, beliefs and news, are closed off from the rest of the instantly-connected world. An exception to this is of course Saudi Arabia, where, among many other laws, there are no cinemas, and women can’t drive. It’s an interesting case in terms of development, as it is simultaneously old and new, with an incredibly large, ancient history that mostly didn’t advance until the middle of the 20th century, moving from one of the poorest countries to the biggest oil producer in around 30 years. As a result of this, it’s undergone hundreds of years of development in under three-quarters of a century, suddenly catapulted forward in terms of technological development, in that there’s TVs and video games, but cut off from most social changes, cloaked in another world of ancient, religious laws.
Since Saudi Arabia is a country going through its adolescence, it’s incredibly fitting to make its first film production about a child on the brink of massive life changes. Wadjda is such a delightful character, one that most people, regardless of when they were born or where they live, could immediately relate to. She’s a kid of incredibly simple pleasures – she loves her tape player, her friend Abdullah, making bracelets to sell, and all she wants is a bike. A bike is something that most kids get in one of their first years of life, so the idea of being denied such a simple object perfectly encapsulates the inequitable nature of Wadjda’s world.
The child’s perspective is the perfect lens to observe this youthful world in – against of a backdrop of a country that is a massive building site of development, Wadjda is wearing t-shirts with slogans under a large, black veil, questioning and rebelling the incredible old, restrictive laws for something that is so simple, like any child. Through Mansour’s skilled writing and direction, this simplicity is ever-present, serving as nothing more than an incredibly effective and insightful window into a world so foreign from our own, where girls get married at 11 years old, it’s considered atypical to work around men, and there is a severe absence of computers and other global technology (Wadjda loves listening to the radio), something that is unknown to many Western children. Despite this, Wadjda is still like any other child, wearing jeans and plaid shirts with her beloved hi-tops (which she even colours in with a black pen to try get around her strict, perhaps contradictory principal), listening to Grouplove and engaging in enterprises to raise money for something she desperately wants.
Overall, Wadjda is an delightfully enthralling look into a previously closed off world. It’s a remarkable film, one I hope lots of people of all ages see, and, among many other reasons, remembered for bringing a private culture closer into the global community, making audiences realise that, deep down, we are all that 11 year old singing along to Tongue Tied in her bedroom.
Wadjda received a limited release starting March 20, 2014.
PG (mild themes), 97 mins.