In an age of global connectivity, where social networking keeps the everyman in touch with…well…anything he wishes, there are still pockets of societies whose practices many of us are unfamiliar with.
Some extreme religious ideologies continue to exist in much of the Middle East, meaning that acclaimed director Haifaa Al Mansour found her gender to be one of the main obstacles she faced when filming Wadjda on location in Saudi Arabia’s capital city, Riyadh.
Wadjda is an inquisitive young Saudi girl (Waad Mohammed) whose dream it is to own the brand new bicycle she sees parked outside her local shop on her way to school. Her best friend Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani) owns one, but because of laws in Saudi Arabia that separate men and women, Wadjda is told it would compromise her virtue. With little help from her mother (Reem Abdullah), she goes about raising the cash herself through various selling schemes that do not go unnoticed by the people closest to her.
Despite the plot staying fairly simple and narrow, what makes this film especially gripping is the culture shock to which we are introduced. Wadjda’s headmistress, Ms Hussa (Ahd Kamel), mirrors parts of Saudi culture in constantly telling Wadjda off for not acting “properly”. German cinematographer Lutz Reitemeier beautifully illustrates her cold, steely demeanour, which acts as an antithesis to the liberty that Wadjda so obviously craves.
This is bound to stand out as one of the year’s most important foreign-language films. Although some scenes are a little slow, the talent is evident. If Wadjda is a starter, we await Al Mansour’s main course with anticipation. She is a director worth keeping a close eye on.
Wadjda is released in selected cinemas on 19th July 2013.
Watch the trailer for Wadjda here: