I was so glad I caught Wadjda, the first Saudi film written and directed by a woman, at a Clapham Picturehouse preview yesterday.  The eponymous Wadjda is a feisty 10 year-old girl who wants to own a bicycle badly, which is one of the thousand and one things females are discouraged from doing in Saudi Arabia. Worse, she wants to race the boy next door and win. In order to attain her goal, she feigns piety and enters a Koranic recitation competition with a 1,000 ryals prize. The twists and turns in her fortunes highlight, with humour and poignancy, the absurdities and hypocrisies of being female in the glorious desert kingdom. Wadjda’s trials and tribulations are counterpointed by those of her beautiful mother who is about to be marginalised by her husband taking a second wife (she has only given him a daughter after all).

The film is a perfect illustration of a simple, powerful storyline encompassing strong themes. It doesn’t over-simplify or ignore the fact that the system oppresses men too: the father who really loves his wife but lets his mother nag him into a second marriage; the chauvinist Pakistani migrant who drives Wadjda’s mother to work and vents his frustration at being far from his own family on her; the naughty, sometimes arrogant, little boy next door who enjoys pulling off Wadjda’s  headscarf but values his tom-boy neighbour’s friendship.  The film functions like a satisfying short story: it has only a few characters with defined wants and needs; it makes insightful observations about the human condition; it concretises the theme with evocative images; the ending continues to resonate after the final frame.

Wadjda’s struggle to achieve something many little girls take for granted is nothing compared to the director Haifaa Al-Mansour’s five-year battle to make the film, obtaining finance from a German production company and getting permission to film in Riyadh.   Al-Mansour had to direct from the back of a van via walkie-talkies because working directly with male actors and crew was forbidden.  It makes the occasional sneery ‘chick-lit’ put-down we women writers get in south London seem pathetic and petty …which is exactly what they are.

Ardella Jones
     Wadjda will be on release 19 July  View Trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pcCCbLzhcY
We will be analysing the film in our workshop on theme 1 pm Saturday 13 July at Balham Bowls Club.  Book a taster  via our Dates and Rates page