London Film Festival stand-out Wadjda is a truly inspiring ride
With over 200 films having screened at the 56th London Film Festival earlier this month, it’s nearly impossible to say with genuine certainty what films presented were truly the cream of the entire crop. Yet, by metaphorically placing an ear to the ground (or reading Twitter, perhaps) a picture begins to form of what underwhelmed and what delighted or surprised. Falling firmly into the latter category is Haifaa Al-Mansour’s debut feature film, Wadjda, which earned a “special mention” at the London Film Festival’s awards ceremony. Its two sold-out festival screenings helped earn UK distribution for the charming, yet remarkably brave tale of a fierce, young Saudi girl who rejects society’s expectations of her.
Written and directed by Saudi Arabia’s first female director, there’s no denying how feminist a work Wadjda is. That such a film should be produced within the strict Islamist kingdom to begin with is no mean feat and is, therefore, praiseworthy for that alone, regardless of the final product. However, Wadjda has more to offer than an inspiring genesis; it’s a truly heart-warming and immensely enjoyable film that offers a subversive, yet respectful portrait of life within a society vastly different from that which its Western audiences will have experienced. Mansour’s film focuses on the eponymous 10-year-old rebel (Waad Mohammed) who wants little more than to simply be herself within a culture that appears to frown upon female individuality. At the centre of her desires is that to own a bicycle so she can race with her friend Abdullah (Abdullrahman Al Gohani), a young boy as taken with Wadjda as viewers will be. Meanwhile, Wadjda’s parents struggle through a rough patch, as her father (Sultan Al Assaf) is pressured to take on a wife capable of bearing him a son. Yes, Wadjda is at times an infuriating experience for a Westerner with even the mildest of progressive views, but this is very much part of the point. Still, it would be a mistake to see Wadjda as a film that seeks sympathy. From Wadjda’s tenacity and spirit to her mother’s (Reem Abdullah) dignified resilience to the fact Mansour has made this very film in Saudia Arabia, Wadjda represents, not only dissatisfaction, but also a steely resolve to forge a path to equality from within.
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