It can be difficult for us westerners to understand a culture that appears alien to our own and I suppose that we should not be too critical of people that live their lives’ differently from the way we do, even if we don’t necessarily understand there ethnic influences. That’s one of the reasons I appreciate World Cinema in that it does help me, and hopefully other’s, accept these differences.
Shot in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Wadjda (2012) is the first film ever to be shot entirely there and by the country’s first female director Haifaa al Mansour. Although she has a master’s degree in film studies she had not been allowed to develop her practical skills, as it was only permissible for her to work on short films and not feature films. Her experience was to be gained whilst actually working on this live project. It sets out to show the injustices faced by Saudi woman through the eyes of an 11-year-old girl. It has a very simple premise by modern film standards in that Wadjda (a very spirited Waad Mohammed) longs to own a bicycle to allow her to prove that she can beat her young male friend Abdullah in a cycle race. Two problems immediately arise, the first is the normal financial problem that she does not have the money to purchase a bike but the second is far more complicated: women do not go out on to the streets on there own - let along ride bikes!
Our tomboy heroine is a resourceful wee thing and sets out to raise the money for the bicycle that she sees in a local shop; it will cost her the grand sum of 800 riyals (approx. £130), which her mother (TV actress Reem Abdullah) deems far too expensive. Her task could be made easier however when she discovers a Koran recital competition that has a cash prize!
This challenging and exciting project came to fruition after al Mansour e-mailed the German film production company Razor Film Produktion GmbH, a company who had already worked in the Middle East, to find out if they were interested in her project, they were and the first filming took place in Saudi in May 2009. There are certain problems within the non-existent film industry in this country, men and women do not work together in public, women are not allowed to drive and although the local authorities gave permission local rules, customs and traditions had to be observed. Which in turn led to many artistic challenges for our female director, including having to direct from a ‘distance’ at times via a walky talky or through her assistant male director. A lot of the narrative had to be filmed inside a school but the Ministry of Education refused to allow shooting at government schools so they were forced to find a private school that looked like a public school. On top of all this the Saudi and German crews took time to integrate but eventually they were happy to learn from each other.
The goal of the film was to refine and inspire the way of thinking regardless of the amount of people who are with or against it. Saudi Arabia’s gender segregated attitude to women, where girls like Wadjda get married off at fifteen and thereafter never appear in public without the black abaya rope is changing but still has an awful long way to go and the sad part is that this movie will probably never have an official screening in the country where it was made, they don’t have cinema’s which have not been allowed since the 1980’s! Support this worthwhile world cinema project by making sure you extend your ‘geographical boundaries’ and see this interesting and thought provoking movie. Out now on DVD and Blu-ray.