Sunday, October 27, 2013

Wadjda (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


The director Haifaa al-Mansour offers a striking debut feature in "Wadjda", about a girl and a bike. The film, deceptively simple and reminiscent of the rich neorealist films "The 400 Blows" and "The Bicycle Thief," is jarring at its edges and its bittersweet situation will pull at your heart.

Wadjda (Waad Mohammed) is a spirited 11-year old who is quick to shake things up. She wants to save money to buy and ride a bike, partly because she likes it but also to be on equal ground with boys.

Her mom (Reem Abdullah ) is horrified. She doesn't want to upset the status quo and has her own problems: her husband is threatening to take a second wife and her "society-arranged driver " is irritable and unpredictable. Wadjda does all she can to be the iconoclast. She wears boys' sneakers, listens to American music and is gently profane to Islamic conventions. Wadjda is driven to get a bike: she gets the idea to join a Koran competition for extra money. Thus by appearing the golden-boxed student, she'll work within society and accomplish her goal.

Scenes of Wadjda studying are interspersed with her mom in desperation, trying to rekindle romance while being treated like a slave by other men. In one episode, she anonymously offers food outside the door and then goes out to try a curvy red dress.

The schoolgirls occultly tattoo themselves with Sharpie pens. Nail polish is a vain and mischievous iconic nectar that leads to Western sin.

Wadjda buys a Koran video game while secretly hatching her plan. She wants to race the neighborhood boy who she obviously likes but doesn't let on.

While the overall tone of the film Wadjda might remind some of the sentimental "Akeelah and the Bee" in which a truant and spunky girl bucks trends, "Wadjda" has definite dark shades. The adult figures are sexist, wolf-like and often petty, while the confines of the madrasa are inscribed within a geometry that is as rigid as the scrape of white chalk. God cannot be blown into spontaneous and varied shapes. The cloaked eyes of the religious police are everywhere and no accepted algebra exists for girls who want to ride bikes or drive a car.

The film "Wadjda" in the presence of the bicycle, parallels the director's struggle to make the film in secret, hidden in a trailer, given that she would not be granted access to film within the company of men.

"Wadjda" is the first film to come out of Saudi Arabia and its subversive sweetness deserves a place among the work of Fran├žois Truffaut and Albert Lamorisse's "The Red Balloon".

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