Phillip and I watched a terrific film last night. It’s named Wadjda.
Wadjda is a 10-year-old girl who saves up money to buy a bicycle, so that she can race her best friend. That’s the entire story, basically.
There’s a bit more to the story, actually. Wadjda lives in Saudi Arabia. She attends a conservative, fundamentalist, segregated school. Her mother tells her that girls don’t ride bicycles. Wadjda’s best friend, the one she wants to race, is a boy.
After we watched it, I learned from IMDb that Wadjda is not only the first feature-length film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia, it’s the first feature-length film made by a female Saudi director. (Wadjda was made in 2012.)
The film is not as heavy as it sounds. It’s actually funny.
Wadja is a rebel. When she’s told by the head of the school that she shouldn’t wear her blue Chucks to school, and that she should wear black shoes like the rest of the girls, Wadja does what she’s told. She colors her Chucks black with a Sharpie. She listens to American rock and roll at home, while wearing jeans and a t-shirt.
Wadjda earns money to buy that bicycle, despite her mother’s disapproval. She’s not above a little scheming and cheating to get the money she needs. She charges money to send a secret message from a girl to her boyfriend – and then, after delivering the message, tells the boyfriend that she was told to collect the money from him.
Wadjda goes so far as to join the school’s religious club, hoping that she can learn The Koran well enough to win the Koran knowledge contest. The prize money will be enough to buy that bicycle.
Wadjda’s father, meanwhile, is home only once a week. He’s upset that his wife didn’t give him a son, and now she can’t have any more children. (Phillip and I were both confused, for a while, about the family structure, because when speaking to her mother, Wadjda used the term “my father”, and her mother, in turn, called him “your father” – making it sound as if mother and father weren’t married. I blame the subtitles for an awkward translation.)
Wadjda presents an interesting glimpse into life in Saudi Arabia, with a variety of interesting characters living within an outwardly appearing oppressive culture – which might not be as oppressive as it seems. (I had to wonder, for instance: If girls don’t ride bicycles, why does the toy store sell girls’ bicycles?)