Wadjda (2012) Poster


User Reviews

Review this title
98 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
How to watch a Saudi film directed by a Saudi Female in Saudi Arabia
r-chloes28 June 2013
Being a Saudi girl myself I didn't know what to expect, but honestly it was quiet good. The way they portrayed how it goes behind the closed doors of girls schools was so real, like I saw my whole life flashing in front of me: You have to cover your face, you have to wear fully covered Abaya... etc, etc.

Funny thing that most of you know by now that we don't have public theaters here, so I was lucky to hear about the screening in the U.S embassy with the presence of the director Haifa AlMansour. it was a once in a lifetime experience: I watched a Saudi movie directed by Saudi female director with a Saudi audience in Home but not quiet home. That kind of thing only happens in this side of the world.

I really believe that the story portrayed everything well and fair, there were a lot of good laughs.

Good job Haifa: I was lucky enough to tell her that be person. Now Go and make the rest of us proud.
168 out of 183 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A complex story told simply and well
PoppyTransfusion13 October 2012
The director Haifaa Al-Mansour tells the tale of a child called Wadjda whose wish is to have her own bicycle so that she might race against her friend and neighbour Abeer. The only problem is that Wadjda is a girl and girls in Saudi society do not ride bikes, which are considered "boys' toys" ... As we follow Wadjda in her quest to find the money to purchase the bicycle she sees being delivered on the roof of a van, we are introduced to her society and its culture and, in particular, its treatment of girls and women. Al-Mansour's portrayal of her country is shown without heavy judgement, although the bitter sweetness of being female is not concealed.

Filmed on location in Saudi Arabia, a feat in itself in a country that does not have a film industry as films are considered sinful, Wadjda's desire represents the wish for female freedom; her lack of a bicycle is mirrored in the adult women's inability to drive, prohibited for women in Saudi Arabia, and the problems this creates for them. So the child's desire to ride a bike becomes a metaphor for freedom, which is the central theme in the film.

This is a subtle tale full of character, charm and complexities and not at all as one might expect. The young girl who carries the film, Waad Mohammed, is terrific and it is hard to believe that she was not an actress before appearing in this feature.

Does Wadjda achieve her desire and get her bike? Is she able to race it along the dusty roads as free as her friend Abeer and the other boys? Well, you will have to watch the film for the answers and in watching the film will support the director and the nascent film industry emerging from within Saudi Arabia.
76 out of 86 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A fantastic film contribution from Saudi Arabia.
finalfantasy_gc16 October 2013
Warning: Spoilers
This film gives us a unique glimpse into a society we know very little about. The story might seem simple at first but as we are witnessing the events unfolding we notice that the story is a lot deeper than that. Underneath the surface of a standard modern society we see how women have to cope in this patriarchal restrictive society. Despite the absurdities that women face every day we can still relate to the characters and the themes in this film. What makes this film so good is how it tells us a story of how people live their lives through the experiences of a little girl. Where dreams can still be realized despite how oppressive things can be. While a sense of optimism always lingering in the background with a healthy dose of humour. A rare but curious journey into a society that seems so different than ours. The director did a great job at telling the everyday story about the Saudi Arabian people without any bias or obvious political agenda. All through the perspective of a charismatic young little girl who just wants a green bicycle.

It is good to see films use similar themes but from a different perspective. The film industry is too clouded with uncreativity. I hope this film experience is not the last great adventure from Saudi Arabia.
23 out of 24 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
My hero
cinematic_aficionado25 July 2013
One thing that makes this movie stands out is the fact that it is entirely based in Saudi Arabia.

Regardless what one thinks of that country, be that knowledge or just stereotyping, it has a culture that is very different than that of what the western audience is accustomed to.

So he have a heroine who is your typical rebel teenage girl, who has realised that being a woman can be challenging and she therefore must give her fight to survive. The story revolves around an utterly sinful desire this young revolver has: to buy and ride a bicycle. To go about that, she must overcome her mum's objections, the shopkeeper's and pretty much everyone she is acquainted with.

Unprepared to simply accept fate, she is prepared to do whatever it takes to ride that bicycle. Quirky and witty, this is a delight and one should not allow any preconceived notions of Arabic culture to stand in the way of enjoying this pleasurable debut.

Wadjda is a hero in any culture.
45 out of 50 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Wadjda will win you over too
Horst_In_Translation14 September 2013
Warning: Spoilers
In a year where Quvenzhané Wallis became one of youngest Oscar nominees of all time, there's still at least 2 other lead performances by very young girls that deserve an equal amount of recognition. One is Onata Aprile in "What Maisie Knew". The other is Waad Mohammed in "Wadjda". The existence and quality of the latter film is quite a miracle. It premiered in Venice last year, where the director and lead actress had a bike with them on the red carpet, and, since then won quite an impressive collection of honors from festivals all over the planet. The movie industry in Saudi-Arabia is practically non-existent to this day, so the creation and shooting of the film ran permanently into obstacles, especially as it's the first Saudi-Arabian movie ever filmed by a woman, but the final result is definitely worth all the hassle. I'm happy to see that just a day ago or two, this film got the honor of being the very first film from Saudi-Arabia that got submitted to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and will compete for the foreign language Oscar in about 6 months from now.

In the center of it, we have Waad Mohammed playing a headstrong little girl named Wadjda. We see her everyday-life at an all-girls school and at home with her mother, whose approach to life clearly seems to have rubbed off on her. Haifaa Al-Mansour depicts the life of females in Saudi-Arabia in a very compelling manner. The best thing about the film is that all the examples of discrimination and misogyny are either very subtle or in a manner that isn't remotely instigative or in the viewer's face at all, for example in the scene where those girls that are on their period have to cover their hands before touching their Korans. But they are not shocked as a reaction, they're giggling just like kids would in this scenario. The director went for realism and quiet convincibility throughout the whole film, such as when Wadjda has her dream crushed towards the end we don't get to see a huge breakdown or tears, but instead she stands there suffering quietly, which is as least as sad to watch.

In addition to those parts relevant to current society issues in Saudi-Arabia, the film is also genuinely funny on lots of parts. The ways in which Wadjda tries to get together the money in order to realize her dream of getting that beautiful green bike are a riot and so are her conversations with her mother and her friend Abdullah. It's simply impossible to resist her and her highly-infectious smile and that goes for everybody in the cinema audience as well as everybody she interacts with in the film. I recommend this film very much. It's an impressive result looking at the struggles during its shooting and the fact that literally none of the actors had any previous experience in the profession at all. Beyond Mohammed in the lead, we also get convincing portrayals of grown women by those actresses who play the mother and the headmistress.
21 out of 22 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
How to survive
stensson10 March 2013
10-year-old Wadjda lives in Saudi Arabia. She's a bit rebellious, which means she wears basket shoes in school, listens to Western rock at home and has befriended a boy her own age. But she mustn't sing too loud, because the men can hear her and get offended.

Wadjda wants to go further and have her own bicycle, which invites trouble in her country. The story is told in a very warm way and you learn one thing. People in cultures totally different from yours are very much like you.

Realism here. Everyday people having everyday problems, but not the problems you have. A humanistic film, which makes it concerning everybody.
54 out of 63 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Wadjda is an opportunity for a female Saudi director to get her voice heard
estebangonzalez1026 November 2013
¨You won't be able to have children if you ride a bike.¨

Wadjda is a beautiful yet simple film about a young girl who is willing to break society's boundaries and traditions in order to achieve her goal. In a sense it plays out as a metaphor considering Wadjda is the first feature film from Saudi Arabia which happens to be directed by a female. In a culture where women aren't allowed to speak up to men or even to drive a vehicle, Haifaa Al-Mansour has found a way to share her voice with the world through cinema. That is groundbreaking on its own considering that Saudi Arabia doesn't even have a film industry and that women are very much tied up to the limitations that their society puts on them. Al- Mansour, who also wrote the screenplay, gets her message across in a simple manner without trying to be judgmental or harsh on her culture. It is through the eyes of this 10 year old girl that we see how difficult the culture is on women. Not being allowed to ride a bike for fear that she could lose her virtue and purity plays out as a metaphor as to the limitations females face in these countries. I'm pretty sure that we all agree with Al-Mansour's viewpoints here in the west, but it is a shame that this film won't be seen by the people who really should see this film, the Saudis. It may be a familiar tale to us (it has all the known elements of a classic underdog story), but it works thanks to a wonderful performance from the young Waad Mohammed who plays a character we all can identify and relate to. Wadjda is worth seeing for the historical significance it has for females in Islamic countries who are trying to get their voice heard.

Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is a ten year old girl from Saudi Arabia who lives with her mother (Reem Abdullah) in Riyadh. She's from a very conservative society where women have to cover their hair around men, but she is a very lovable girl who's always pushing the boundaries to her limitations. When one of the boys (Abdullrahman Al Gohani) begins teasing her and outruns her on his bike, she promises that she will buy one to race him and beat him. She sees a beautiful green bike on sale and since her mother doesn't give her the money because she considers girls shouldn't ride bikes, Wadjda decides to raise the money herself. The perfect opportunity presents itself when director Ms. Hussa (Ahd) offers prize money for the winner of a Koran recitation competition at her school. Wadjda begins to dedicate her time and efforts to this competition, while her mother is worried about trying to convince her husband (Sultan Al Assaf) to stay with her and not get remarried. Wadjda is dedicated to achieving her goal despite the limitations presented by the people around her.

The young and talented Waad Mohammed stands out in this film with a heartfelt and lovable performance. It is a simple tale and one we've seen many times in the past with the exception that this film is told by someone who has been facing those very same limitations. Some universal themes about the human spirit and the power of the will are portrayed nicely in this film through the eyes and smile of Waad Mohammaed. Director, Al-Mansour, also gives us glimpses of the limitations women have to face through very small scenes and moments. There is a scene where Wadjda's mother is shopping for a dress and she tries on a beautiful red one and you can't help but wonder what a waste it is considering she can only wear it at home for her husband. She covers herself completely when there is a man around. She also spends so much time fixing her hair, only to cover it until her husband who sometimes doesn't show up in days can appreciate it. Al-Mansour presents these scenes without being judgmental, but they come through very well. Wadjda, like us, doesn't seem to understand all this and won't conform to those boundaries, which is the director's way of sharing her hope for a brighter future for these women. Maybe if there were more determined girls like Wadjda they could break through some of those boundaries and limitations and have some more freedom. The film is full of hope like the main character and it is one worth seeing.
20 out of 22 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An Optimistic Tale of Triumph Over Adversity
l_rawjalaurence11 December 2013
WADJDA is a straightforward tale of a young girl Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) growing up in a suburb of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, who wants to buy a bicycle. Unable to find the money to do so, she enters a competition to speak the Koran in public with a substantial cash prize. After considerable time spent studying the text, she wins the competition, but sadly doesn't receive the money. In the end, however, she achieves her dreams - but not in the way she expects. Haifaa Al-Mansour's film is noteworthy for being a woman's film directed by a woman; it shows in careful detail the ways in which women's lives are constructed in Saudi Arabia, as well as showing how influential the Koran is in determining people's behavior. Some viewers might think that the women's lives are unfairly restricted; the film suggests that this is what many women believe is the right thing to do. By doing so, WADJDA shows how different people embraces different concepts of Islam. On the other hand, the film also suggests that individuals - especially children - should have at least some means to express themselves, particularly when they have worked to hard to achieve their aims. To restrict them is also to repress them; and this ultimately leads them to accept subordination as a way of life. WADJDA proves that the opposite should be true; not only for Wadjda herself but also for her mother (Reem Abdullah).
14 out of 15 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Saudi Movie= I'm instantly curious
motezart21 September 2013
The total lack of films that come out of Saudi Arabia made Wadjda, a Saudi film by Haiffa Al- Mansour, instantly alluring. Haiffa Al-Mansour is already accredited as being the first successful woman filmmaker in Saudi Arabia's history.

This is very much Al- Mansour's film. She charms the viewer with the common everyday struggles of the Saudi woman, and rather than address the issues in a combative way, her approach is warm, even cute. This draws us in to her characters and provides us with some heartfelt laughs along the way.

The precocious 10-year Wadjda is growing up in Riyadh where she wants nothing more than a shiny new bicycle, but not only is she a little short on riyals, in Saudi Arabia women do not to ride bicycles. Saudi moral code bans woman from driving, going out in public unveiled, living unaccompanied, leaving the country alone, and opposing their husbands' orders in any way.

Small details make grand impressions: In an all girls school teenage students paint their toenails, a sin, and are publicly vilified for it. The mere possibly that workmen half a mile away might see school girls playing in their courtyard forces all the girls to rush inside, lest they be judged impure. Pubescent girls are considered impure and must use a tissue just flip the pages of Koran.

Wadjad's truly beautiful mother spends much of her time perfecting her appearance only then to have to then cover herself with a full hijab. She is never openly defiant; defiance is impossible, but even thought she is obeying age old traditions that we'd assume would have dulled any emotional protest, through the mother's submission we get a brief glimpse of her distress, the natural human emotional distress that no amount of "aged tradition" or religious subjugation has the right to inflict on any human being.

In a country where cinemas are banned, Riyadh is not exactly a city where women can just go around shooting films. Females mixing with male co-workers would bring dire consequences. Al-Mansour shot the film anyway, directing much of it from the back of a van, and the result is a film representing the triumph of the defiant feminine spirit, in all forms.

For more film reviews visit getthebonesaw.blogspot.com
19 out of 22 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Big Start for Saudi Arabia
nikashvili22 October 2013
Wadjda is a school girl who has a dream of driving a bike, which is mostly considered to be a "boys' thing" in her community. That's why she is the only one standing for her dream, without even a little support of family. To collect 800 riyals (price of bike), she decides to compete in Quran competition to win 1000 riyals. Starting from zero and despite all complications, she beats every school girl.

This movie is about many many things. But mostly how big a dream can come and how those inhuman traditions shape persons, narrow their minds and how some of them still are sparkle of light in "darkness". Plot mostly concentrates on Wadjda, but it still exposes bad habits and traditions of Arabian society - problems in family, outside family and at schools. But those supporting stories are quietly playing behind this little girl's strive for dreams.

Wadjda is a quiet type movie. It does not have big emotional culminations or some plot twists. It goes very slowly from the beginning to the end as pale as landscapes of Saudi Arabia. However it's still good movie to watch - its simplicity, clarity and sincerity makes quite enjoyable film experience. Unlike most movies produced in Islam countries, Wadjda does not bring any criticism of religion or traditions or anything else. It just tells a story leaving everything open to judgement.

For the record, director Haifaa Al-Mansour is a first female director in Saudi Arabian and is considered one of the most prolific movie makers in the Kingdom. She truly did a great job illustrating Arabic reality in a very small and personal story of young girl. Haifaa also wrote story herself. Screenplay is quite good, without any major plot holes or fails.

Oscar chances? Pretty good for many reasons. First of all, it's a good cinematic piece. Secondly, it's directed by a woman from Islamic country. Third, it's is first submission by Saudi Arabia. Fourth, it is quite charming and easy to understand story, which can reach to very bottom of every hart. And finally, it gets quite successful PR company by producers and director herself. So, shortlisting is a guarantee, nomination - highest probability, win - I'd not consider this seriously.
11 out of 12 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Brave and Brilliant Effort from Saudi's First Female Director - A Simple Yet Delightful Story About Freedom!
akash_sebastian14 February 2014
In a land where where cinemas are illegal, the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia by its first female director, 'Wadjda' is simple yet alluring neorealist film about a child and a bicycle. Haifaa Al-Mansour's brave effort gives us an interesting glimpse into the lives of women in a strict religious country like Saudi Arabia.

Being scolded for not wearing a head-scarf to school and for singing when her father's friends are in the other room (women unable to show themselves or their talents in presence of men), being sexually harassed by a building site worker, seeing her mother sad and angry because her dad is about to marry another woman (desperation for a male heir and the existence of polygamy), her mother almost losing her job because of her dependence on a rude driver (women are not allowed to drive any kind of transport), seeing one of her classmates getting married (rare but existent child marriages), seeing two elder schoolmates get wrongfully accused of immoral intimate conduct, and feeling disappointed after not seeing her name in the family tree (only male children are given importance); these are just few of the female struggles we see through the eyes of our young tomboy heroine, Wadjda. From the very first scene where she stands out in a group of singing school girls with her converse shoes, we see Wadjda as someone rebellious and strong. In a repressive land where women are oppressed, based on strict religious laws, not only by men but by other women as well, Wadjda dreams of having a green bicycle, so that she could overtake her annoying yet caring friend Abdullah. Though girls are not allowed to ride bikes, she starts collecting money by selling love-song mixed tapes and football club bracelets to her schoolmates. And thus begins her journey. Just like 'The Bicycle Thief', the bicycle here signifies freedom.

The young yet incredibly talented Waad Mohammed gives a charming performance, and carries the movie on her shoulders with terrific ease. Waad along with Haifaa (Director) are the two brave talents that emerge from this feature. All the supporting actors act commendably as well. International composer Max Richter's background score is subtle yet as captivating as the movie itself. Shot with such authentic beauty, there are many scenes which stay in your mind long after the movie is over, one of which is where the young friend Abdullah asks Wadjda, in an adorably sweet way, if she knows that he wants to marry her when they grow up; the scene has a lot of meaning and hope attached to it.

It's not just a critique on Saudi society, but it's a universal story which talks about a society's limitations and possibilities.
6 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A colorful dose of rebellion and the sweetness of a child's dream.
theordinaryreview15 June 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I was eager to see Wadjda, often publicized as the first Saudi Arabian film, which is not exactly the case but it is the first that got such recognition and is the first by a female director. I thought it would be an interesting experience to witness. The fact that it was a female director made me even more curious as women rights in Saudi Arabia are known to be a controversial issue and is mostly what the outside world is exposed to about Saudi Arabia.

Wadjda is a young girl who doesn't like school that much and is often reprimanded by the teachers for her rebellious behavior. Things aren't much better at home as her mom struggles with driver issues and her father is seeking a second wife. Wadjda doesn't seem to have many friends at school, but she has a friend who lives in the neighborhood, young boy named Abdullah. He has a bicycle which becomes Wadjda's obsession and decides to get one for herself, despite this not being tolerated in the Kingdom. Nevertheless, Wadjda starts saving up her money to buy one. The nearest shop owner has one and after some discussion she manages to have him keep it for her until she gathers the money. In the meantime, she allows Abdullah to put up lamps from their house, for his uncle's political party's gathering. In exchange, he lets her ride his bicycle. When her school launches a Quran reciting contest, Wadjda works hard to win the prize money which would allow her to finally buy the bicycle.

I really enjoyed Wadjda. It was fresh, with a colorful dose of rebellion and the sweetness of a child's dream. In many aspects, it reminded me of the Iranian film Children of Heaven (1997). It seems to portray a good look at life in Saudi Arabia. The acting was really good and it made me enjoy the film more because I ended up rooting for Wadjda. Some moments will feel tender, some will be really cringe-worthy and some will feel real. It is probably the strength of the movie that the viewer will go through such a range of emotions. It also shows things that will feel strange to foreign eyes without ever seeming judgmental or preachy.

The film is not flawless by any means, and I found it to have some down times and some scenes that did not quite fit in as fluidly in the movie as others. But it didn't prevent me from enjoying it as a whole. I found it clever, thoughtful and most of all, it made me think and feel. On top of that, it always feels good to see what could be a pioneering movie.

I liked: Playful, clever. A story line that pulls you in. Good children actors.

I disliked: Some scenes do not fit in as well, I felt they were put to highlight the local colors.

79/100 I'd recommend it to anyone into foreign film. Hopefully, Wadjda is only the first of many.

Read more reviews at: www.theordinaryreview.blogspot.com
13 out of 16 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A Review of Wadjda
ebbysadiq29 December 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Wadjda is a beautiful movie that speaks of female victimization in a culture that uses false notions of truth and propriety to achieve its purpose of subverting and controlling women. The question that follows is by whom and for whose benefit? Interestingly, the suggested answer is that subversion is performed by women for men's benefit.

The movie reveals the intricacies of the process of subversion where no male figure in particular is brought to the forefront to do the job but a culture of women who internalized masculine values take over and start subverting the younger generation of women in their world, the world that the movie takes interest in and represents.

The biggest advocate of such subversion is the school headmistress, who mercilessly condemns and labels young innocent girls with indecency and sin. If they play in the schoolyard while men workers are structuring a building at a distance, then the girls are described as indecent. If girls are painting stars and figures on their legs and are afraid of the soiling practice, they are suspected and wrongly accused of committing a larger sin, lesbianism. The stiff headmistress does not hesitate in announcing their names to the school community without verifying the accusation. The mild defense of the falsely accused students is swept aside by the mistress adamant condemnation. Her ultimatum is that holding hands is forbidden between girls in the school.

The headmistress' distorted notion of right and wrong is also evident her retrieval of the monetary prize she gave Wadjda, the protagonist of the movie. Wadjda worked hard to win this prize but lost it to charity upon innocently declaring she wanted to use it to get a bike. The headmistress accused Wadjda of violating decency for harboring such an intention and denied her the prize. Under the claim that any girl who fears for her honor should never ride a bike, the headmistress sends the money to charity without waiting for the consent of the prize winner.

The culture of women that internalize masculine teachings and parrot false notions of what a woman can and cannot do includes Wadjda's mother who allows herself to be victimized by such culture and constantly attempts to impose its values on her daughter. The mother's victimization is evident in her acceptance of a harsh life with a husband who is absent most of the time. She takes care of herself, her daughter and the house. She pays for expenses while he grudges small things for his daughter. He entertains guests and she cooks for them. In addition to all responsibilities, Wadjda's mother has a job to which she makes a daily trip of an hour and a half drive with a bad-tempered driver in an unconditioned car in hot weather. A more convenient job in a nearby hospital offers itself but she cannot take it because men mix with women in such work sites. She interprets her husband's jealous possessiveness as love and accepts her lot because she loves him. He is the first and last man in her life.

Wadjda is the only promise in a culture of victimized women that are constantly on the go to victimize the next generation of younger women for masculine benefit. Her attitude is marked by her insistence to achieve her dream of getting a bike in order to compete with a neighboring boy who is brought up into man's superiority over women but gradually converts into admiring his female friend by deciding to marry her when he grows up.

A more significant support comes from Wadjda's mother who buys her the bike she dreams of at the end. But under what conditions does this occur, for the mother has always echoed the culture by telling Wadjda that she can't get one; girls are not supposed to ride bikes or else they will never conceive? The mother actually receives a blow that becomes an eye opener. Her husband, Wadjda's father, marries another woman to bear him a male son that Wadjda's mother could not get him following complications in her first pregnancy and baby delivery. The mother finally realizes her own victimization and her wrong parroting of false cultural values. There and then she decides to give her daughter the longed for bike, the key to freedom.

A beautiful movie that objectively and subtly exposes and condemns cultural victimization of women and rewards a young girl's quest for freedom. The bike becomes a symbol of such freedom as Wadjda rides it fearlessly and boldly to the main road.
5 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Powerful movie
Karina201312 September 2013
Its not often i find foreign movies that touch me deeply. I loved this movie and was surprised how well this movie was made. Waad Mohammed played her part extraordinary where she took us viewers on her journey. I both laughed, cried, got angry and got happy when i saw this movie. I am so happy the movie ended the way it did, i don't want to give away any spoilers here but during the whole movie i was scared something would happen hehehe. Thankfully it ended as it ended. This movie also show a sense of determination. Doesn't matter what country you are from or the age, we all have a dream. And how far a determination, patience and hope can take you. I love the fact we saw a raw view of Saudi and i truly enjoyed watching this movie. Well done for the incredible director for by Haifaa Al-Mansour! Such a joy to have seen this movie
20 out of 28 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A Treasure of a Film About Girls and Women in Saudi Arabia
rannynm23 January 2014
A poignantly triumphant movie, the storyline of "WADJDA" is just as phenomenal as the story of how the film came to be. In short, "WADJDA" represents quite a number of firsts. It's the first feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, a country where cinema is prohibited. Writer and director Haifaa Al Mansour is Saudi Arabia's first female filmmaker. It is also the first submission from Saudi Arabia for the Foreign Language Category for the 2014 Academy Awards.

Set in a country known for its repression of women, the movie follows our title character—a 10-year-old spirited girl—in her journey to buy a new bicycle so she can race her best friend, neighbor and crush Abdullah. Even though Wadjda's mother warns her to stay away from both bikes and boys because of their culture's strict customs, Wadjda is determined to buy her bike with her own hard-earned money, no matter what the consequences. This, in turn, leads to joining a Koran competition at school. If she wins, she will have more than enough to buy a bike and therefore beat the boy next door.

Subtly, the film explores the repercussions from this society in which girls should only be seen, not heard and, in public, only their eyes should be seen, with the rest of their faces covered by black veils. Wadjda tests boundaries in her search for freedom of expression. Although she discovers the contradictions in her world, she's determined to challenge women's traditional roles. The movie covers major topics such as polygamy and child-brides, as well as smaller oppressions such as the restriction of driving and rules of women in the presence of men.

It's mind-blowing to me that a movie about the oppression of women was made in the exact environment it depicts. On DVD, the making-of featurette explores in-depth the struggles and challenges that faced director Haifaa Al Mansour. The line, "respectable girls go inside," is said to Wadjda in the film, and Mansour confronted the same problems. She had to direct her cast out-of-sight using a walkie-talkie to communicate with her cast and a monitor to watch the filming. She could not be seen working with men and often, when religious officials would come to inspect the bustle, production would be halted and moved to another location. It took close to five years to make the movie, but the effort is worth it.

First timer Waad Mohammed is perfect as the fun-loving rebel Wadjda. This film is rated PG and I recommend it for ages 10 to 18. The pace may be slow for kids under ten. This is truly a landmark film that the world needs to watch. I give it five out of five stars. Perhaps the most uplifting message is that although the plot is fiction, the remarkable story behind the movie is not, and that shows that revolution is possible. This film played in theaters last year and will be released on February 11 on DVD/Blu-ray.

Reviewed by KIDS FIRST Film Critic Cassandra H. For more youth reviews go to kidsfirst dot org.
4 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Saudi girl desires freedom and independence of having her own bike
maurice_yacowar8 January 2014
Warning: Spoilers
In Wadjda writer/director Haifaa Al Mansour parallels the stories of 10-year-old Wadjda and her mother.

Both play the system by the rules and are betrayed. The mother serves her husband perfectly except in denying him a son. That's because she almost died giving birth to Wadjda so won't bear again. He's proud of the food she prepares for his friends. He loves her still. Nonetheless he still "burns her heart" by taking a second wife. Wadjda works hard enough on the Koran competition to win the money for the bike she wants but the school principal denies her the prize.

Both are courageous enough to go their own way, in the face of convention or decorum. When her husband takes a second wife the first one goes her own way and cuts her hair, which he'd preferred long and smooth. She will live for herself now not for him. When she tells Wadjda that from now on "It's just the two of us," she seems primed to join her cousin working in the hospital, with men, without the burka. By buying the bike she's enabling Wadjda to be her own self too, instead of submitting to the prejudice against girls riding bikes.

Our last view of Wadjda is on her bike, at an intersection, open roads before her, as she warily looks for what's coming. That describes her mother's new position as well. That could be the situation for women throughout the Arab world — or not, if the traditionalists have their regressive way. Of the two men who watch Wadjda cycle by, one smiles at her appreciatively but the older one shakes his head rueful.

Though the film seems critical of the society's hidebound sexism it is not critical of Islam. The recited sections of the Koran express values of justice, citizenship and humanity that we all should find amenable. If there are faults they are in the officials' abuses of that faith and in the citizens' unexamined prejudices. For more see www.yacowar.blogspot.com.
4 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Eye-opening look at the lives of women in Saudi Arabia
sandlynn220 January 2014
We went to see this as a family, with our two daughters, 14 and 16. We all enjoyed it. Seeing how the limitations placed on women in Saudi Arabia play out in everyday life was of great interest to all of us. The story line depicted not only Wadjda's efforts to break free from her circumscribed world, but also how adult women struggle to survive. The effort to simply support oneself without a man when one can't even drive or wear clothes that allow for mobility reflects how rules ostensibly meant to "protect" women keep them dependent on men for the most rudimentary basics.

I suspect that even this film does not depict the lives of women in Saudi Arabia completely accurately. Some concessions seem to have been made to the government. No religious police are to be seen, for example. Nonetheless, it is well worth seeing, and we applaud Haifaa al-Mansour for making it. We look forward to her future work.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Very interesting look at life in Saudi Arabia
Andy-2965 January 2014
Wadjda is the first film made in Saudi Arabia, a country where cinema theaters are banned. And is directed by a woman (Haifaa al Mansour), no less, and has a quasi feminist theme as well. The simple plot centers around Wadjda (played by Waad Mohammed), a rowdy girl, about 11 years old, living in Riyad who dreams of owning a bicycle (in Saudi Arabia, the movie tells us, girls riding bicycles are frowned upon). In order to buy a bicycle, she enters a contest in her girls-only school for recitation of the Koran with a cash prize, despite the misgivings of the harsh, stern headmistress (played by an actress called simply Ahd, in perhaps the best performance of the film).

The movie reminds me of some Iranian films of the past that also are centered on children (for example, Abbas Kiarostami's early films or Majid Majidi "Pedar" and "Children of Heaven"). I suppose directors from conservative countries like Iran or Saudi Arabia chose movies centered on children's since films dealing with adult themes would surely hit censorship issues. Perhaps the movie has more social interest than cinematic interest (though it is well filmed). It is fascinating to see the contrast between the relatively affluent society (Wadja's house has all the latest gadgets) and the very conservative traditions of the country (at one point, for example, the mother of Wadjda is afraid that her husband will take a second wife, as it is allowed there). Or we see one of the girls in the school, of Wadjda's age, showing the photos of her marriage to an older man. And once when Wadjda falls from a bicycle and draws blood, her mother is at first afraid her hymen has broken – virginity in women is extremely valued in Saudi Arabia. A very interesting movie to watch, especially since life in Saudi Arabia is very seldom shown in movies.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
At its heart it is a really good engaging, warm and sweetly cheering coming-of-age story
bob the moo3 January 2014
It is quite hard to come to Wadjda with a clear head and I suspect with the awards season coming up, it will be harder to do so in the future, which is why I wanted to watch it now. Part of the reason for this is that the film has had quite a bit of publicity due to its place in history, it being the first film in Saudi Arabia directed by a woman and this made me think that perhaps critics would have been quick to be generous to it. For sure I think this is a factor and the context of it representing (in theory) a country moving towards ever so slightly less hard-line conservatism may also be a factor in awards voting; but my concern was that this mean weaknesses were forgiven and stronger aspects were hyped up. The second thing in my mind was that perhaps Wadja would be very critical of Saudi as it may be seen as "time to settle some scores" and that this would be less a film and more a finger wagging exercise.

The reality is that neither of these are really the case and indeed the main strength of Wadjda is that it is simply a coming-of-age story which is set in Saudi Arabia. This means that the film doesn't push an agenda in a very heavy handed and frequent way, but rather just uses the culture of its setting as part of its story, just like any other such film would do in the context of their country. I liked this a lot because very quickly I was able to settle in and just enjoy the film for its character and story. And it helps that the story is engaging, warm and quite cheering in some ways; Wadjda is a sweet heart to the film and is very well played indeed by Waad Mohammed and she plays very well with her simple goal of just wanting to be herself and not be restricted by others – again a theme that maybe has more significant in her context, but still one common to these types of films. The film plays his out well with other threads and challenges to others around her which resonate with the impact of restrictions but again not in a heavy-handed or really obvious way.

It is a fine line to walk but the film does manage to flag issues for discussion but not to do so in a way that is overly critical or unrealistic even if it is progressive; perhaps to use the right language it is a very subdued and modest criticism and it is never front and centre on the screen. The balance means that it will engage you with the simple structure of its story while also making its points with things shown to inform and characters within the story used to illustrate different aspects of choices to be made – whether it be Wadjda's refusal to be restrained or Ms Hussa's overcompensation for not doing the same herself. It is very well shot and directed – and not "considering the circumstances", but rather it just is. The use of locations is really good, giving the film a strong sense of play and I do hope someday there is a "making of" documentary as I think the daily reality of making this must itself be an interesting story.

Wadjda is a very good film even if I think a lot of the hype and gushing that will come during the awards season is as much about the context as it is about the film itself – although this is not a bad thing by any means. The makers walk a fine line really well – not making direct criticisms so much as telling an engaging and warm story out of which comes the obvious criticisms and discussions which could be had. It does this very well and deserves to be seen as a film as well as a statement.
3 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A powerful indictment of gender inequality
howard.schumann26 October 2013
Despite Saudi Arabian officials refusal to budge on the rules concerning male-only driving and threatening the arrest of women activists who are planning a protest, repressive laws and customs directed at Saudi women are changing slowly. Women may now ride bicycles, can sit on the national advisory council, and a decision has been made by King Abdullah permitting women to vote and run in municipal elections in 2015. Regardless, it still takes a great deal of courage in Saudi Arabia to stand up to centuries of repressive traditions and assert your full rights as a human being.

Wadjda, funded by European companies and backed by the Sundance Institute, is the first film to be directed by a Saudi woman, Haifaa Al-Mansour, and the first to be shot inside Saudi Arabia. In addition to being genuine and heartwarming, the film is a powerful indictment of the gender inequality that Saudi women face in their lives. For a ten-year-old child with intelligence and an independent streak to be compelled to follow strict religious laws while attending school is quite a challenge. In a sparkling performance by Waad Mohammed, Wadjda is a rebel from the outset. She wears sneakers and shoelace bracelets to school, sells friendship bracelets to her classmates, listens to Western pop music on the radio, and wears baseball boots, much to the chagrin of Ms. Hussa (Ahd), the school's overbearing principal.

She constantly admonishes Wadjda for not complying with restrictions such as completely covering your face and not being seen in the company of men unless they are a part of your family. Fortunately, Wadjda has a great relationship with her mother (Reem Abdullah) and they treat each other with humor and mutual respect, yet there is tension, mainly created by her father (Sultan Al Assaf) who is in and out of the home, looking for a second wife who can bear him a son. The girl has become friends with Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani), the next door neighbor of about the same age, who rides a bike and playfully challenges her to beat him in a race.

Their relationship is very sweet and very natural without straining for cuteness and their smiles are enough to put even the grimmest viewer in a good mood. Wadjda is also full of surprises. When she expresses a wish to compete in the annual Koran contest, her authoritarian teacher who is ready to expel students for all kinds of harmless interactions is taken aback. Of course, Wadjda's reason for entering the contest is to win enough money to purchase the green bike she has her eyes on and which the local store owner is holding for her.

Though girls riding bikes are frowned upon because of the absurd claim that it will keep them from having children, to Wadjda, it is a symbol of her independence from social and religious strictures. Her quest to save money to buy the bike using every street smart she can think of shows the strength and quiet determination of her character. Though there are many outstanding performances including Reem Abdullah as Wadjda's reassuring and sympathetic mother, Waad Mohammed's dramatization of the plucky ten-year-old with the broad smile helps make Wadjda one of the best films of the year. Unfortunately, since there are no cinemas in Saudi Arabia, it is doubtful whether Saudi's will ever be able to see it.
5 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A much needed perspective on roles of women in Islamic countries
Khabibul35-119 October 2013
The Middle East is such a hot topic, but so little of the conversation is generated by natives that it's almost impossible to have any sort of dialog. On the one hand, we get the western phobia of Islam which includes hateful stories on the people/governments of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Afghanistan. On the other hand, we get the defensive responses of the governments/peoples of those countries who hate to have their countries painted in such broad strokes. This is exactly why a movie like this is so important! For once, we're presented with a perspective that looks at the issues with introspection. It might not the perfect description of life in Saudi for a woman, but it's a start and it brings up important points.

I'll start with the fact that the cinematography and acting are excellent. Those who might expect a B-movie production from a Saudi filmmaker making her first movie will be more than pleasantly surprised. The script is well written, the actors play their roles fantastically and the movie is well edited.

As far as plot, the movie is seemingly about a girl whose goal is to acquire a bike and the obstacles she needs to overcome to do so. On the surface, this might seem like a really simplistic plot but the way the story is told makes in much different than the normal protagonist overcomes difficulty story. And in fact, as it soon becomes apparent, the story isn't even really about the bike at all, but a chance to give context to the lives of women.

And thought I might have already raved about the technical aspects and how the story is told, in reality the #1 reason you should see this movies is because of the questions it raises. In the movie, we are confronted with important issues about the role of women is Saudi society and the different nuances of life. There is just the right balance of things that are told to us directly and what we must infer. To westerners, it might be one the first times we get this perspective. To Saudis and proponents of Islamic law, it's a chance to begin a discussion about the role of women in Saudi society. Regardless of where you stand, this movie is an opportunity to start the education process and the discussion on the topics at hand.
5 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An all-in-one desperate attempt to appease a Western audience
MagpieGarden5 May 2014
Warning: Spoilers
In short, this is your typical, stereotypical movie designed to appease a Western audience. Nothing more than mainstream media propaganda.

If you are a Westerner looking for a movie that fits your preconceptions about the 'Other' (here being the orient, the Arab/Muslim world or more specifically Saudi Arabia) then this is your movie! You are guaranteed to return home feeling good about yourself and what you have long thought about that part of the world through your mainstream media.

In Wadjda you've got it all: oppression, polygamy, dictatorship, child abuse, labour abuse, early marriage, hypocrisy, gender discrimination and even terrorism (that part about the young man who blew himself up to win 70 virgins in heaven was so artificially and forcefully pushed into the script)! All your stereotypes packed in 98 minutes.

Wadjda offers absolutely nothing new. I may have seen it tens of times before. Sadly, it is a cheap, pathetic start for a director.

It lacks a great deal of authenticity and does not give an honest picture of that part of the world. It undermines both the intellect and intent of genuine viewers.

I give it two scores for the performance of children, in particular that of Abdullah, the little boy who played the role of Wadjda's friend.
18 out of 30 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
The (little) girl of Riyadh (screen)
leplatypus3 March 2013
Warning: Spoilers
So, with no budget, no celebrities, no digital effects, no gunfights, it's must be a crap if we call for the standards in actual entertainment.

Wrong, emotion is such that it's the best movie of the year so far. Not bad for a country that has apparently no public theaters!

Saudi Arabia is a paradox for me: a holy land, doted with gold but where life can be as harsh as in the Dark Ages. In that way, this movie lifts indeed the veil (!) of this oppression: the feminine is really viewed as aggressive thus leading to its confinement: no right to drive, rules for shopping, schools, polygamy. Thus, as soon as the movie begun, I became tense and anxious as I was in constant fear to see those courageous mother and daughter crushed by the society. Now that I know that they are finally safe and victorious, I think that the movie would be worthy new visions to enjoy it freely. In a way, I lived the societal pressure that exists over there and it's a proof of the talent of the director.

The movie is subtle, filled with compassion and not rage. I can't really say if a society turns bad because of bad people, or are people become mean because of society? So, a big surprise here is to meet that even women can believe in that segregation. The school director is an interesting character because her depiction shows that we are all humans after all and that we can say a thing and do another.

Besides this, another appeal of this movie was to discover Riyadh. I expected to see a shining capital whereas the town looks dusty and a bit derelict: the stores are empty, the cars are old and the buildings are poorly furnished.

Finally, Wadjda is a truly sweet kid and Waad, a fine actress as she can shows her inner feelings in a simple and delicate way. Torn by her familial roots and societal rules, she can only find peace with her dreams, her loving mother and a true friend. I think they would be a happy couple or will she face the fate described in the book "Girls of Riyhad" that makes the same fuss in this country that this movie !
7 out of 10 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A firecracker
proterozoic29 July 2014
Wadjda is 10. She wants to buy herself a bicycle so she can win a grudge race against a neighborhood boy, but has to find a way to hustle the money while going to a Saudi religious school that takes a dim view of fun and games. "There's your problem right there," as they say on the Internet.

A movie is truly exciting when it shows you something you've never seen before. You'd think this would most often be sci-fi, but it isn't, because they use the same grey metal corridor all the time, in everything. "Wadjda" is, because it reveals a world that almost nobody gets to see even if they want to - and a very large number of Americans won't look at even if you show it to them, because they're scared of catching "stealth jihad."

This is hilarious, because the hard cases who run Saudi Arabia - like Wadjda's head-mistress - ban bracelets, magazines and tapes of love songs for fear that any exposure to those things will infect their students with whorish Western culture. Either one side overestimates the power of the other's influence, or both do, or perhaps the two sides would flip and trade places, with Riyadh turning into Miami on spring break and Burning Man banning women from pedaling their own concept tricycles.

The latter probably won't happen, so if you're not afraid of Islam cooties, watch this movie and you will find an extraordinary treat for the curious. It shows Saudi women in their domestic lives, before and after they put on the "space suit" to head out. It shows how the gender-based class system works in general, while drawing characters who began to feel like my relatives after half an hour. Wadjda was my kick-ass little niece, and her mom was my sister-in-law, and I wished there was a way for me to call them up and say something encouraging. I wished there was a way to send them stuff - I'd give Wadjda an iPod full of Pink Floyd and death metal, and I would give her mom the robot taxi from Total Recall, the one that looks like there's a man driving it.

This movie passes the Bechdel test summa cum laude, as one might expect; its sensitivity and realism means that technically (since this is the first movie ever to be shot entirely in that country), the Saudi Arabian film industry now has a better average track record with female characters than Hollywood does. The relationship between Wadjda and her mom involves some yelling, but is sweet and wonderful through and through.

The movie never criticizes the social regime of its country, but it doesn't have to - even played completely straight, it looks horrendous. This is the most sexist society on earth, and Wadjda's school is like an alien experiment run by creatures that hate joy in all forms.

"Wadjda" itself, however, is pure joy. It works on every level - as drama, slice of life, children's movie, movie about children & an insider look at Saudi Arabia. It's an awesome movie.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Deeply moving
zetes6 March 2014
A fantastic little film directed by a woman in Saudi Arabia. That's astounding considering that women are pretty much not allowed to do anything there. Al-Mansour had to direct her cast from inside a van, because she couldn't direct the male crew out in the open. It's also astounding because Saudi Arabia has almost zero history in the art of cinema. It's shocking how well made this film is. Of course, the subject is the existence of women in the country. Waad Mohammed stars as 12 year old Wadjda, a wily young girl who does not like her lot in life. In particular, she wants to ride a bicycle, which is a huge taboo in Saudi Arabia (they're afraid it might break her hymen). Her mother (Reem Abdullah) is going through her own problems. After she had Wadjda, she can no longer have children, and her husband is trying to land a second wife so he can produce a male heir. Wadjda's attitude gets her in plenty of trouble at school, with headmistress Ahd (that's the actress' name, just Ahd) disapproving of every little thing she does. It sounds like the film is as oppressive as Saudi Arabian society, but it's actually quite joyous. Mohammed is so insanely lovable. I was hugely touched by the film.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed