Screen from Wadjda (Courtesy of Koch Media)
Just saw a movie you might have heard about, Wadjda, the first by a female director/writer in Saudi Arabia, and it’s great—and not just for its cultural, political, historical element, or its amazing and brave feminist theme for that country. The writing, directing, acting and cinematography are all terrific.
I happened to see it at a nearby art house, but it also showed last week at the local mall—so look for it in your area. Here’s one review. It has a rare 100 percent favorable rating from critics as assembled by Rotten Tomatoes.
You may have seen the director, Haifaa al-Mansour, on The Daily Show last month, talking about needing to shoot some of the street scenes while giving directions from a van, as she would not have been allowed to do that in the open. The film itself is a humanist, feminist gem mainly about a young girl’s attempt to buy and ride a bike (very frowned on for females there). That part of the story is quirky and often humorous, although also quite revealing.
But Wadjda also focuses on her mom’s losing her husband to a second wife (partly because she cannot provide him a son). Another problem for mom: Since she’s not allowed to drive, she needs to rely on an abusive driver for a long commute. A friend urges that she join her in working at a local hospital, but she says her husband would never allow her to work where other men would look at her.
And a final miracle—the Saudis have picked it as their entry for the Foreign Language Academy Award. Even though, last I checked, it was not allowed to be shown widely in their country. Apparently pride in its accomplishment for the national cinema outweighs the controversy over its social criticism, as least in the Oscar derby. It surely deserves a nomination. Trailer:
Note: When I posted a brief tribute to the movie at my blog, one commenter offered this view:
Well, It is a step forward, but re-considering the matter, we have to admit that the director Haifa is not “the usual Saudi woman”. She is unveiled, married to an American diplomat, lives in Bahrain (within the security of US embassy where her husband works) and not in Saudi Arabia. Yet, this is great. I have always said that Saudi Arabia will be liberated by its women. Looking forward to see what will happen on 25 Oct. when some brave Saudi women will challenge the car driving taboo.
Katha Pollitt writes about the imprisonment of prominent female Saudi human rights activist Wajeha Al-Huwaider earlier this year.