Wadjda review by Alyse Garner - Cinema Paradiso
Saudi Arabian girl Wadjda (Reem Mohammed) is like any ten-year-old girl, her must fervent wish to own a bicycle so that she may cycle around with her friends; however, the culture of her largely Muslim country view women cycling as vulgar and even dangerous and as a past time it is very much frowned upon, though not explicitly forbidden. Wadjda, determined to join her male friend on his two wheeled adventure takes it upon herself to raise the money to purchase the bike without help from her smothering culture.
Wadjda’s mother, a traditional Muslim woman, refuses to buy Wadjda a bicycle so the girl begins her entrepreneurial exploits by selling hand-made bracelets to her schoolmates, however even this is thought of us unseemly and she is forbidden to continue. When a cash prize is offered for a Quoran recital competition Wadjda enters despite having little interest in religion herself.
Opening with scenes of a young girl dancing around her room to a cassette tape playing what most Western pre-teens would refer to as retro, or just plain “old”, pop songs Wadjda is a film that aims to shock it’s audience and raise many cultural and sociological questions. The sight of the beautiful young girl freely expressing herself to the outdated rhythm of her music comes in stark contrast when, only a few moments later, she is seen leaving her house fully covered in the clothes of Muslim humility.
Though there may be few scenes that openly antagonize audiences, there is certainly plenty in Wadjda to fan the fires of impotent revolution that lurk beneath the surface of our clashing cultures; what I found myself thinking on more than one occasion was how strikingly different my own childhood and those of my loved ones would have been without the freedom of something as simple as a bicycle – a form of transport many of us take for granted but that here is lifted up though it were a chariot sent straight from heaven.
The contrast between our cultures is deepened when one learns a little more about the film and the country in which is both set and made, where cinemas are still banned and girls Wadjda’s age and younger have been targeted by extremists for their public outspokenness in such a male dominated society.
If all of this weren’t enough to at least raise your interest in the film for its cultural and political significance then I strongly urge viewers to watch it for the strength of performances and the emotional tangibility of the story. Mohammed is fantastic as the lead, her performance marking one of the best from child actors that I have ever seen; she is both likeable and believable, her independence, guile and intelligence causing her to shine in every scene. Whilst the way in which the film makers have balanced serious world issues with the rather tongue in cheek comedic tone that underlines the entire piece makes Wadjda a pleasurable watch above all else.