Saudi Aramco World: January/February 2014 - page 12

Released last year and winner, to date, of 16
awards around the world,
Wadjda
is the first
feature film by 39-year-old Saudi director Haifaa
Al Mansour, the first feature to be filmed entirely
in Saudi Arabia with an all-Saudi cast, the first
by a female director and the first film ever to be
submitted to the Oscars from Saudi Arabia.
Al Mansour gives much credit to social changes
in the kingdom for the success of her production.
“I never could have shot this film in Riyadh 10 years
ago,” she says. “There are so many reasons to be
excited and optimistic about the future of the kingdom, and I
hope this film reflects that.”
Wadjda
takes viewers inside the life of a middle-class Saudi
family. Wadjda is an only child, and she attends a traditional
religious girls’ school, where she is sharply shamed by her
headmistress for her subtle rebellions—tomboy Converse
sneakers, pop mixtapes, braided bracelets with sports-team
colors and, most of all, for her outlandish dream of owning a
bicycle. Wadjda’s mother is an endearing woman whose long,
hot commutes to her job are
made worse by her driver’s impatience,
and though she is still smitten with her husband, she
is wounded by his deep yearning for a son—by a second wife.
Abdullah is sweet, loyal and charming as Wadjda’s friend, and
he becomes her ally when he secretly teaches her to ride his
bicycle on the rooftop of her house, both oblivious of what
their genders imply in their world, portrayed as one in which
triumphs and defeats transpire realistically, and tradition and
progressiveness interact thoughtfully.
“The events surrounding the story are real, raw and
authentic to the point that it shocks me as a Saudi, because
there is none of the sugar-coating or glossing over that you find
It is 10-year-old Wadjda’s usual morn-
ing walk to school through her Riyadh
neighborhood when Abdullah—her
neighbor and best friend—pedals up
on his bike and playfully snatches her
headscarf. “Come get it!” he teases.
“I would if I had a bike!” she calls af-
ter him. “Don’t you know girls don’t
ride bikes?” he replies. Watching him
ride off, Wadjda’s dream is born. She
later tells Abdullah that she will save
enough money to buy her own bike,
and then she will challenge him to a
race. Her quest, against the disapprov-
al of both her mother and her school,
sets in motion a rich, layered plot that
illuminates Saudi culture and customs,
and our common humanity.
FromSaudi Arabia
WITH LOVE
“I was motivated to write
this story for all the girls
I grew up with who had
so much potential
but never had the
opportunity to
realize it.”
—HAIFAA AL MANSOUR
TOBIAS KOWNATZKI / RAZORFILM (2); RIGHT: ANDREW H. WALKER / GETTY IMAGES
Written by
L E I L A A L - H A B B A L
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