In Saudi Arabia, the land where cinemas are forbidden, where women are to stay at home and only allowed in public hidden under the black abaya and veil, Haifaa al Mansour is making history by becoming the first Saudi female director. ”Wadjda”, a movie which the Saudi people will not be able to see in the cinema, but hopefully on dvd.
According to Haifaa al Mansour this is the first movie shot exclusively in Saudi Arabia. she did not only direct the movie but wrote it as well.
The movie is showing at the Venice film festival.
Film critic Alberto Barbera said, “One interesting phenomenon concerning the changes occurring in Arab cinema is the unexpected role played by the new generation of Arab women directors. Because the female works are sometimes more courageous and innovative, capable of dealing with sensitive issues like terrorism in Algeria or the female condition in Saudi Arabia, they are surprising and full of promise for the future”
The film follows the everyday life of young Wadjda and her attempts to circumvent restrictions and break social barriers – both at school and at home. Constantly scolded for not wearing a veil, listening to pop music and not hiding in front of men, Wadjda uses guile to get her own way.
When she sees a green bicycle for sale that would allow her to race against a male friend, she concocts a plan to raise the money needed to buy it in spite of her mother’s opposition – respectable girls do not cycle in Saudi Arabia. She ends up learning verses from the Koran by heart to enroll in a religious competition at school, hoping to win the cash prize that would pay for the bike, and in the process pretends to have become the model pious girl her teachers want her to be.
The film is funny, but also conveys the frustrations and restrictions women have to bear every day living in Saudi Arabia.
I would love to see the movie and hope it will be sold through Amazon!
There will be plenty of backlash against this movie. Or, if they are clever, they will make sure nobody in Saudi Arabia knows about it, like the Saudi Olympic athletes, who were almost completely ignored by Saudi media.
The movie is considered neorealist. For anybody interested in Saudi culture, and life, this should be a very interesting movie.
The girl Wadjda is perplexed by the Kingdom’s restrictive culture, particularly where women are concerned: it seems incompatible with a child’s logic. Even though she covers herself up in accordance with modesty laws, an elderly man still leers at her openly in the street, and the confusion that flickers across her face speaks volumes.
Wadjda’s father claims to love his wife, but is nonetheless off scouting a second wife who might bear him a son. Inside the school grounds, the girls are forbidden from touching the Qur’an if they are having their period and are summarily banned from laughing in the yard.
“A woman’s voice reveals her nakedness,” scolds Wadjda’s teacher, as she and a
friend run laughing from a Riyadh side street into their school playground. “What
if a man had heard you?”
Her mother is horrified when she learns Wadjda wants to ride a bicycle:
”Girls don’t ride bikes,” she says. “You won’t be able to have a child if you ride bikes.”
In the end however the mother supports her daughter. When Wadjda wins the school competition, her principal refuses to give her the prize money because she will use it to buy the bike. It will go, the principal says, to the Palestinians instead. But her mother (Reem Abdullah), who is parting from her husband because she can’t give him a son, finds the money herself.
Wadjda is played by the 12 year old Waad Mohammed.
Director Haifaa Al Mansour said “Wadjda” aims to portray the segregation of women in Saudi Arabia, where they hold a lower legal status to men, are banned from driving and need a male guardian’s permission to work, travel or open a bank account.
“It’s easy to say it’s a difficult, conservative place for a woman and do nothing about it, but we need to push forward and hope we can help make it a more relaxed and tolerant society,” she said after her film premiered in Venice, speaking to reporters in English.
She pointed to signs of change in Saudi society and said younger generations were challenging rigid customs and slowly pushing the boundaries of what is considered acceptable.
“It’s opening up, there is a huge opportunity for women now,” Al Mansour said, noting that Saudi Arabia entered female athletes for the first time ever at the London Olympics this summer.
“It is not like before, although I can’t say it’s like heaven. Society won’t just accept it, people will put pressure on women to stay home, but we have to fight.”
Al Mansour spoke of the difficulties she faced filming in Riyadh, despite having obtained permission from authorities to do so.
She occasionally had to hide in a van in some of the more conservative areas where locals disapproved of a female film-maker mixing with men on set, and at times had to direct her male actors via walkie-talkie. A woman is not supposed to direct men!
“Women have to stick together and believe in themselves and push towards what makes them happy. We just need to push a little bit harder against tradition. We need to do things and make things and tell the stories that we want to tell. And I think the world is ready to listen.”
”Saudi Arabia is a very traditional, conservative and tribal society,” she explained as Wadjda, debuted to warm applause at the Venice film festival. “Men and women cannot be on the streets together, particularly if the woman is seen to be directing the men. People would come and tell us to stop filming. It was a challenging experience, to say the least.”