Watching this remarkable film by Saudi director Haifaa al-Mansour (first full- length movie filmed in Saudi Arabia) realizing we are almost fourteen years into the twenty-first century and that millions of women live in restricted, reduced environments: individuality denied, erased, censored by scripted clothing; unable to vote, drive or control their finances; divorced by simple sentences; birthing vessels, castoff when male progeny is not fulfilled.
“Wadjda” is an effervescent ten-year-old girl; stubbornly refuses to be categorized, listens to Western music, wears tennis shoes, paints her toe nails blue; flirting, skirting the boundaries of traditional family, Islam, choking confines of her all-girls madrassa, in a suburb of Riyadh; she yearns for a bicycle in order to race the “boy next door”; she is a spunky entrepreneur, shrewdly outwitting her classmates, teachers and overwhelming, challenging obstacles . Waad Mohammed’s immaculate performance, illuminating spirit gift “Wadjda” a legitimacy worthy of the highest accolades.
Without bludgeoning sentimentality al-Mansour gently, poignantly addresses the suffocating restraints, dearth of choices, women in an Islamic milieu must adapt to, or circumvent; Wadjda’s mother (magnificently lovely, Reem Abdullah) lacerated by tradition; unarmed, fighting for her beloved husband, pulsating power lies in her integrity; her formidable love for her daughter, cemented, entrenched, is her unwavering, chiseled core of verisimilitude.
The film’s beauty and wisdom lie in its defining polarization: inside the home, universality reigns: cooking, watching television, dancing in blue jeans to gyrating scores of ubiquitous contemporary composers, happiness; versus a thirsty, withered, enervated landscape, shrouded specters running to their ordained destinations; shackled psychologically, fated anonymity. Oh, but Wadjda, the eternal spring, gushing with certainty, lends luminosity and hope to these tethered souls.