Wadjda (SBIFF ’14)

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What a lovely film. It’s not always that we get to listen to a specific vision from a remote part of the world, where film has largely been shut out, like so many other things. Wadja is a Saudi Arabian film, a country where movie palace and theatres are still banned, where women wear Hijab’s, like “pearls in a clam” according to Islam and are not allowed to mingle with other men in public. It is here that the lovely story of a little girl that wants a bike is born. Naturalistic and Realistic, Wadja is a homage to De Sica’s “Bicycle Thieves” and other Italian Neo-realist films.

The film opens with a pair of shoes. Like Alfred Hitchcock before her, the director is Haifaa Al Mansour female, she lets us know who this character is trough the costume design. Everyone else in school wears black formal shoes, but Wadja is the only girl to wear Converse’s with purple shoe-laces! She wants a bike, but she has now money, but the real story is seeing how she lives.

Her mother stays at home all day, cooking, waiting for her husband to come home from a long day out looking for other wives- what- yeas, you read that right, under Islamic law, men are allowed up to 4 wives, and in this case since wife number one cannot father a son, he must look for another that will.

But yet, there are contemporary touches, like Wadja and her father playing Xbox on the high-definition LCD screen, in the living room.

The film is transgender, flips the gender roles and places a 13 year old girl dead center in the Saudi Desert.

There is no big burst of conflict, just a quiet undercurrent where grown women are ruled and restricted like children. A place where spending the earnings for a Q’ran reading contest on a bike is not allowed!

Thankfully the girls gets her bike and we get a look at a corner of the world we don’t often see. Where directors have to shoot from vans, and not mingle with the film-crew, because it is the Will of Allah.

Wadja was released in Venice film festival last year, and features lush and saturated colors in the city of Riyadh, capital and largest city of the Saudi Empire.

It is a film to see to give you hope.

– keyvan yaldai

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